Google adds World Bank data to search results

Search giant adds global data and interactive charts from the World Bank to its search results, part of an ongoing effort to tap into info beyond its own databases.

The next time you search Google for life expectancies or number of Internet users in the U.S., you'll find the specific figures plus an interactive chart letting you compare the U.S. with other countries.

Since Wednesday, Google has been tapping into data from the World Bank to provide key details and interactive charts on specific topics along with its own search results. The goal is to better help you search for and compare certain types of public data.

The World Bank is providing Google with facts and figures on 17 key indicators, including population growth, fertility rate, gross national product, and energy use.

Enter one of the 17 indicators into a Google search. You can phrase it as the specific indicator, for example, "population world," or type it as a natural question: "What is the population of the world?"

At the top of the search results, you'll find a thumbnail chart along with the latest statistics. (According to the World Bank, 72.4 percent of the U.S. population is on the Internet as of 2008.) Click on the chart or accompanying link, and up pops a larger interactive graph where you can visually compare the U.S. with other countries by clicking on their check boxes.

Google

You can embed the chart's HTML in your own blog or Web page and opt for the data to be updated automatically anytime the World Bank's information changes. Finally, a link for more info brings you directly to the World Bank's Web site where you can dig further into the results of your search.

This latest partnership with World Bank is part of Google's effort to offer data beyond that which it can grab from your average Web page. Back in April, the search giant started integrating stats and charts from the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But the World Bank is the first source to provide global data for Google. The World Bank's figures come from its World Development Indicators (WDI), a collection of data derived from its own research and that of 30 other sources. The global data includes statistics on social, financial, and environmental areas encompassing more than 100 different countries.

A Google spokesperson told me the company got the idea to incorporate this public data after analyzing its logs to see what facts and figures people were searching for. The company reached out to certain providers of the data that people wanted, and the World Bank was interested in joining the effort.

One drawback I found with the World Bank data is that not all of it is recent. Among the 17 key indicators, no 2009 figures were available. That's reasonable, though, since 2009 is not yet over, so final and accurate statistics have yet to be calculated.

I found 2008 as the most recent year for most of the data, however, some only went up to 2007 or 2006, while one (CO2 emissions per capita) dated back to 2005. A World Bank spokesperson told me the results actually show whatever data is most recently available and are dependent on their original source.

Looking at the CO2 emissions, for example, the World Bank receives that information from a group called the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, and the 2005 figures are the latest available. Much of the data can take a long time to collect since it's coming from many different countries. For example, to gather fertility rates around the world, the source organization must contact each country's government, including those in emerging markets, clearly a time-consuming process.

Google recognizes that some information may not be current due to the time taken to gather it. But the company feels the tradeoff is worth it because of the accuracy and wide scale of the data.

The stats and graphs you'll now see through Google may sound similar to results you can find at Wolfram Alpha. But WA's results display static, not interactive charts. And when I searched Wolfram Alpha on the same or similar indicators as those offered by the World Bank, WA came up short, unable to deliver the results I wanted.

Besides the World Bank internationally and the Labor and Census Bureaus in the U.S., Google is hoping to work with other research providers, but will always want to be sure their data is accurate, credible, and useful.

About the author

Journalist, software trainer, and Web developer Lance Whitney writes columns and reviews for CNET, Computer Shopper, Microsoft TechNet, and other technology sites. His first book, "Windows 8 Five Minutes at a Time," was published by Wiley & Sons in November 2012.

 

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