I was interested to see recently that Google had opened up their data visualization infrastructure. One part of it is a tool that anyone can use to visualize publicly available data — the Public Data Explorer. As they say on their web site, “The Google Public Data Explorer makes large datasets easy to explore, visualize and communicate…You don’t have to be a data expert to navigate between different views, make your own comparisons, and share your findings.”
They have a directory of many public datasets, but you can also upload your own data and use their tools to visualize it.
To do that, you need to learn about the Dataset Publishing Language. It’s basically a standardized way to describe your data so the Public Data Explorer can manipulate it. The data itself doesn’t need to be marked up in XML, it can stay in the CSV format (comma separated values, and a typical Excel output format).
But be careful, you can easily lose a lot of time messing around with making animated graphs of various data sets that are already there. I sure did.