Google's getting into the data visualization game: Yesterday, Google Labs unveiled the "Public Data Explorer," which allows you to see animated visualizations of some of the most searched-for data sets on the Web. (You can watch a fascinating animation of the chart above here.)
This is an add on to a search feature that Google Labs rolled out last year, allowing you to find publicly available data sets--things like unemployment and GDP and fertility rates, published by organizations such as the World Bank.
But Google, for once, actually isn't on the leading edge with this new offering. The fact is that there are projects everywhere bubbling up, that attempt to make data visualization into a viral thing, shared and remixed constantly on the Web.
There's already Many Eyes, a site from IBM created by infographics gurus Martin Wattenberg and Fernanda Viegas, which allows you to upload a data set, graph it, and share it. Swivel, a similar service, describes itself as the "Youtube for data." And Tableau Public is a new freeware app that intelligently suggests the right data visualization, and then lets you publish it to the Web as a flash embed:
Clearly, there's a new attitude emerging towards data--and a need to make it easily digestible and sharable. All of which makes you wonder: Where is Microsoft amidst all this innovation?
To be fair, their Live Labs research group recently unveiled Pivot, a kind of data visualization engine for images on the Web:
But that app--cool as it is--doesn't quite fit with Swivel or Tableau Public or Google's Public Data Explorer.
What's dumbfounding is that the features of those services don't appear in the one place that they seem most obvious: Microsoft Excel. (Tellingly, Swivel offers a tool bar, for publishing data from Excel directly to the Web.)
Which makes you realize: Excel is basically the lingua franca of data. And yet it's rapidly being left behind, in terms of how people actually use that data. Compared to something like Tableau Public or Many Eyes, the ways it charts data are clunky and primitive.
Why isn't Microsoft out in front of these developments? Why isn't Excel changing with the times? Why doesn't it have better features for sharing and publishing data? Why doesn't it have a cloud interface? Why isn't its charting functionality more intuitive, and more intelligent?
Is their "dysfunctional culture" once again squashing a development that one day might replace excel altogether?