Google's Public Data Explorer

Last week Google launched (well, it's a Google Labs version) an ambitious attempt to solve a problem every person who manipulates data has faced: how to merge different data sets that may have different bases, and then how to display the data. With its new Public Data Explorer Google has placed a series of data sets on line. It allows users to manipulate them, and to display results as line graphs, bar graphs, maps, or scatter plots.

I tried looking at worldwide cholera outbreaks over time and got this map. Click on the arrow to see the changes over time.

Even better, embedded charts and links like this one can update automatically. And you can click on the "Explore data" link to look further into what is displayed.

Google has data from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, Eurostat, the CDC, the UN, and various US government agencies available. It is encouraging others to share their large data sets using a standard code. Take a look at the article by Chris Wilson in Slate, "An HTML for Numbers" about the possibility for data-sharing if everyone used the same format. It also creates new possibilities for error, I realize, but that's a subject for another post.

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