In what is being called just a start, Google has introduced the ability to better search and then actually use public data. The data that being used in this initial run is provided by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics and the US Census Bureau’s Population Division. Google’s hope is to not only make this data more easily accessible but then be able to use it in a way that can be helpful through comparisons of different data sets.
Two years ago Google purchased Trendalyzer, which is part of this offering. The Google blog states
We have been working on creating a new service that make lots of data instantly available for intuitive, visual exploration. Today’s launch is a first step in that direction. We hope people will find this search feature helpful, whether it’s used in the classroom, the boardroom or around the kitchen table. We also hope that this will pave the way for public data to take a more central role in informed public conversations.
Rather than just take Google’s word for how easy this was to do I did a search for Wake County population and the first result on the SERP (search engine result page) was a small line graph. Clicking on that line graph then brought me to an interactive feature that allowed me to compare the growth of Wake County v. that of surrounding counties by simply clicking a box. I could also do this v. any other county in the US. The verdict is that if you need this type of information for any reason this is ridiculously easy to use. The hardest part of the process was resizing the screenshot. Here is the chart that was created.
So one limitation is obviously the age or timeliness of the data that Google has indexed to help do these things. Data is often like that though so this is nothing to really be concerned with. You make do with what is available and go from there. Since this is just the first step you have to believe that there is plenty to follow. A quick list of some of the other public data that exists shows where this could go. Google explains
The data we’re including in this first launch represents just a small fraction of all the interesting public data available on the web. There are statistics for prices of cookies, CO2 emissions, asthma frequency, high school graduation rates, bakers’ salaries, number of wildfires, and the list goes on.
So it looks like it continues to be more and more of a Google world and we are simply allowed to play in it. Honestly, though, if they weren’t doing things like this who would have the resources to make this happen with the current state of economic affairs?