Google just announced its first foray into making public data searchable and viewable in graph form. The company is starting with population and unemployment data from around the US but promises to make far more data sets searchable in the future. The potential significance of making aggregate data about our world easy to visualize, cross reference and compare can’t be overstated.
Most of us understand the world based on stories we’ve put together from our own lived experience. Another way to understand things is by finding patterns drawn from everyone’s experience in aggregate. Journalists often find big patterns and then zoom in to particular life stories that exemplify those general trends but make them easier for us to relate to as individuals. Those stories then help move public opinion in favor of policies that aim to change the general trends.
That’s just one way that easily searchable public data can be very, very important. These first data sets come from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau’s Population Division, but as Google explains in its announcement there are far more sources of information that could be included. Those two government agencies alone have a lot more to offer as well.