Cool Tool: Google Public Data Explorer

Data visualization is a popular topic of conversation within the world of higher education, and a fast-growing area of research within (and across) several seemingly disparate disciplines.

Within communication, for example, data visualization brings together issues highly relevant to familiar topics of visual communication, political communication, film studies, journalism, and mass media history — and adds to them a set of new deployments, largely based on changes in information technology and underlying code structures. The practical result, in addition to some really excellent research, is an explosion in the number of online tools that play with visualizing large public data sets.

Google Public Data Explorer is a nice, free example of this tool trend, and a powerful resource for researchers, educators, and professionals interested in exploring visual data. Based on Trendalyzer software, which specializes in the illustration of changes in data over time, the Explorer allows users to create automatically updated visual charts based on a sizable directory of public information.

As the Nieman Journalism Lab pointed out back in February, free tools such as Explorer have the potential to be “particularly useful for news organizations that would like to get into the dataviz game, but that don’t have the resources — of time, of talent, of money — to invest in proprietary systems.” In the meantime, it’s a fine tool for use in a classroom context, and for encouraging communication students to develop more interactive relationships with public data and quantitative information in general.

Click the image above or here to view a sample visualization.

What do you think of Google Public Data Explorer, or other public data visualization tools? Leave a comment and share your thoughts!

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