Currently a Google Labs project, the Public Data explorer (http://www.google.com/publicdata/home) “makes large datasets easy to explore, visualize and communicate. As the charts and maps animate over time, the changes in the world become easier to understand.” The example given on the home page is a chart showing data from the World Bank on fertility rates per woman by country and life expectancy at birth. At first glance you may be deterred by what appears to be limited datasets but there are options to explore by selecting countries, different data series and time options.
In the example below I looked at CO2 emissions per capita for selected countries:
Other data sets include the OECD Factbook, some Eurostat collections, and several US datasets. Details can be found at http://www.google.com/publicdata/directory.
How useful is Google’s data explorer to the serious researcher? It all depends on whether or not the dataset you require is available – and there are a limited number – and whether or not it covers the years you need. I noticed that some of the datasets had 2005 as the latest year. Although you can embed the “visualizations” in your own web pages there are currently no download options. It is worth familiarising yourself with what has been made available here and the different “visualisation options” are attractive, but you really can’t beat going direct to the original provider of the statistics. My own favourite starting point for tracking down data on a topic and/or country is still OFFSTATS – The University of Auckland Library at http://www.offstats.auckland.ac.nz/browse/