Google Adds World Bank to Public Data Search

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2009-11-11 Print this article Print

Google Nov. 11 added the World Bank as a new source of statistical data to its search engine results, letting users mine an internatiional source for stats on such topics as electricity consumption per capita, or carbon dioxide emissions per capita.

Google began adding public data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau's Population Division in April, piping their feeds into Google search results.

Google is urging users to try queries such as "gdp of indonesia," "children per woman in iran," or even Internet users in the United States, which yields this chart at the top of the results page:

Google world data 1.png

When users click on the result they will be treated to an interactive chart where they may compare the U.S. data with other regions around the world. Clicking boxes next to the country names adds that country's data to the interactive chart, allowing users to compare the number of U.S. Web users to those in other regions:

Google world stats 2.png

Ola Rosling, product manager for public data at Google, told me this is important because without any context to compare the stats to, it's hard to derive quality meaning from the original results. He explained:

Being able to put them in context, to compare two lines next to each other often helps us understand numeric data. That's why we prioritized that feature early on.

Users can also click the "Link" button in the upper right‐hand corner of the chart page to embed charts on your own blog or Website. Users can either embed the chart with static data, or set the chart to update on the fly when new data becomes available:

Google world stats 1.png

The 17 "World Development Indicators" Google is using from the World Bank include: child mortality rate, CO2 emissions per capita, electricity consumption per capita, energy use per capita, exports as percent of GDP, fertility rate, GDP deflator change, GDP growth rate, GNI per capita in PPP dollars, Gross Domestic Product, Gross National Income in PPP dollars, imports as percent of GDP, Internet users as percent of population, life expectancy, military expenditure as percent of GDP, population, and population growth rate.

Who would use this data? Rosling said he envisions general searchers who have a lightweight need for stats -- journalists, high school students -- would find this feature useful.

Rosling also told me Google intends to add more governmental data sources in the future, but declined to specify what public data Google is looking to index within its search engine.

I also asked him, half-seriously, when Google was going to start actually calculating equations itself, rather than just surfacing the data from other sources. Rosling said:

That's an interesting question. For now, we're focusing on much more lightweight usage. We're also not computing any numbers ourselves. At this point, we're not targeting that kind of usage. What comes in the future will be disclosed when it's ready, but it's an interesting idea.

File that under things that make you go hmmmm.

Google's addition of the World Bank data to its search engine comes, conveniently, the same day Microsoft's Bing partnered with Wolfram Alpha to provide stats from that statisticial super engine.

Though you have to admit the juxtaposition is interesting. Bing is offering to let users find how many calories there are in a hamburger, Google's World Banks finds stats on more weighty issues.

A little tit for tat, methinks. Remember, I've said Google is trying hard not to be upstaged by Bing. At the Web 2.0 Summit, Google unveiled its tweet-indexing deal with Twitter not long after Bing launched its Bing Twitter Website. |

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