Google unveils search tool to help make sense of public data

Update helps users visualize employment data or track regional wildfires or car accidents

Want to see how your area's unemployment rate stacks up against the rest of the country? Or compare the price of cookies, the level of carbon dioxide emissions or the number of wildfires in different regions of the country?

It may sound like an odd mix of statistics, but Google Inc. is trying to make it easier to get your hands on all of that information. Ola Rosling, a Google product manager, announced in a blog post Tuesday afternoon that the company has launched a new Google search feature designed to make it easier to find and compare public information.

"The data we're including in this first launch represents just a small fraction of all the interesting public data available on the web," wrote Rosling, noting that the data comes from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau's Population Division. "Reliable information about these kinds of things exists thanks to the hard work of data collectors gathering countless survey forms, and of careful statisticians estimating meaningful indicators that make hidden patterns of the world visible to the eye. They did the hard work! We just made the data a bit easier to find and use."

Rosling noted that to get this kind of statistical information, users should type in terms like "unemployment rate" or "carbon emissions" and then the state or county. That can pull up the most recent estimates in a Google interactive chart and then users can add or remove data based on different geographical areas.

The new feature includes technology Google acquired when it bought the Trendalyzer graphics software two years ago, according to Rosling. "We have been working on creating a new service that make lots of data instantly available for intuitive, visual exploration," she wrote. "Today's launch is a first step in that direction."

Last week, Google unveiled two new tools that are designed to make it easier for users to find the information -- or images -- they're looking for. Both of the new tools -- Google News Timeline and Image Search -- come out of Google Labs.

In the last several months, Google has been focused on adding new features and tools to its products.

In February, the company unveiled an upgrade to Google Maps that allows people to track the exact location of friends or family through their mobile devices. Google Latitude not only shows the location of friends, but it can also be used to contact them via SMS, Google Talk or Gmail.

Then a week later, Google announced that it updated its Gmail software can show the location of e-mail writers.

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