My recent Chronicle of Philanthropy column was about the Googlization of Philanthropy and the ways in which third party web applications can effectively organize philanthropic data so long as social sector players digitize their knowledge and make it accessible. I specifically was not making the point that Google the company should dominate this process. But of course they are the heavy hitter in this area.
So it was with interest that I read today about Google’s new efforts to aggregate and organize public data. The initial launch makes unemployment and population data on a county by county basis available in chart form that can be manipulated by the user. You can try it out by googling “unemployment rate” or “population” and the state or county you are interested in. The charting feature makes it easy to put the data in context both across time and in comparison to other areas.
From the Google Blog:
The data we’re including in this first launch represents just a small fraction of all the interesting public data available on the web. 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. 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. 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. They did the hard work! We just made the data a bit easier to find and use.
Since Google’s acquisition of Trendalyzer two years ago, we have been working on creating a new service that make lots of data instantly available for intuitive, visual exploration. Today’s launch is a first step in that direction. We hope people will find this search feature helpful, whether it’s used in the classroom, the boardroom or around the kitchen table. We also hope that this will pave the way for public data to take a more central role in informed public conversations.
This is just the beginning. Stay tuned for more.
Google admits that “the hard work” is the data collection. Their job is to make the data “easier to find and use”. As this process plays out in philanthropy, individual donors are going to find that they can begin to act on the information that informs the grantmaking of large institutional funders. Since individual donors give vastly more to charity than foundations do each year, helping their donations flow based on better knowledge of what works will have a transformative effect.
You can see a quick video demo of the new Google product here.