A new search tool by Google allows users to see certain types of public data, such as the unemployment rate and population, presented as an interactive graph.
When searching, if a user pairs a search term such as "unemployment rate" or "population" with a geographical location within the United States (such as "Arizona"), the top search result will be an interactive graph that allows the user to see that unemployment or population rate over time.
A menu bar on the leftmost part of the screen will then allow the user to overlay other county or state data atop that initial graph. For anyone with the desperate urge to see how the unemployment rate in North Dakota has compared to that of Arizona over the past 18 years, your ship has well and truly arrived.
"The data we're including in this first launch represents just a small fraction of all the interesting public data available on the [Web]," Ola Rosling, product manager for Google wrote in a corporate blog posting. "All the data we've used in this first launch are produced and published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau's Population Division."
"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," Rosling said, suggesting that the data-graphing service might expand.
The launch also hints that Google is exploring pathways into more visually oriented search, something further confirmed by Rosling on the Google blog.
"Since Google's acquisition of Trendalyzer two years ago, we have been working on creating a new service that [makes] lots of data instantly available for intuitive, visual exploration," she added. "Today's launch is the first step in that direction."
Purchased in 2007, Trendalyzer generated "moving graphics and other novel effects in the display of facts, figures, and statistics in presentations," according to Google, which at the time of acquisition said that the visualization tools would be applied to future applications.
Google has made a strategy of rolling smaller companies' technology into its own search and productivity tools. In July 2007, the search-engine giant acquired GrandCentral, whose technology it used to create Google Voice, a phone-based application that lets users condense their phone numbers into a single one, and provides added features such as automated voicemail transcription.
Google's latest focus has also been on expanding its search capability. Users can now have their Google profile displayed at the bottom of name-query search pages, potentially allowing Google to create more of a social-networking presence online similar to that already offered by Facebook and Twitter.