I know that real estate professionals like to talk about market data with their customers because almost every single real estate blog I look at has a post about how the market is doing. This makes sense because, as I’m told, the question, "How’s the market?" is pretty much asked by everyone who comes into contact with a real estate professional.

At the same time, there’s also a lot of conversation about "lifestyle" and how important that is to people looking for a home. There are a lot of data points that might be useful to understanding lifestyle that wouldn’t be contained in the average housing market report.

Awhile back, Google acquired some technology from Hans Rossling’s Gapminder that works with data visualizations. We’ve seen the results of this in some of the fancy charts and graphs available in the advanced sections of Google Analytics.

Now Google is working more toward Rossling’s real goal: making public data available for visualizations by normal people. If you’ve ever tried to make sense of the data that is locked away in public reports and sources, you know that there’s something great in there. Something meaningful about what people are doing and how people are doing.

However, getting at that data and making something meaningful out of it is nearly impossible. Well, maybe if you’re really into crazy spreadsheet macros and deep statistics it isn’t nearly impossible. But the normal business person is left to wait for the wonks to cook up a chart before being able to make much use of the data.

Google’s Public Data Explorer solves this problem. Using PDE you can create interactive charts of data from 27 different public sources from the U.S. and around the world. Hopefully the data formats of public reports will be standardized and make even more public data available.

Google Public Data Explorer: 4 views of data

The system that Google has put together allows you to create four different types of charts that use public data as the source.

  • Line chart: Just like you’d expect, a horizontal axis and a vertical axis with your data treading somewhere in between.
  • Bar chart: Just like you’d expect, some axis and bars.
  • Map chart: This is where it gets a little more interesting. See your data presented as a radius circle on top of a geographic map. If you’ve looked at your Google Analytics map reports this will be very familiar. But instead of search volume, it’s the data from a public source. To make things even more interesting, this data can be animated to show change over time.
  • Bubble chart: Probably one of the most useful chart options out there. You can show data in several dimensions. There are the familiar horizontal and vertical axis, plus a point which can become larger. As with the map chart, this can also be animated over time. If you’re familiar with Rossling’s TED presentations then this chart will look very familiar.

Using public data for real estate

So how can you use this stuff for your own real estate site? If you’re already heavy into the market reports that you create or purchase, you may be able to find some correlating data to show alongside your market data.

But the real power of these charts comes from their interactivity. You can compare various locations across different times. By handing over control of the timeline to visitors, you let people play with and understand the data in their own way.

For example, we could make a chart for understanding income in a specific area. Here’s a chart:

In this chart there are bubbles for each U.S. region. The horizontal axis is personal income per capita and the vertical axis is disposable personal income per capita. The size of each bubble represents the population of each region. All of this data comes from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Notice that there’s a timeline at the bottom. You can scrub back to 1948, where you can see that all of the regions are pretty much in the same place for both income and disposable income. Moving forward to 2009 you can see that they aren’t in the same place: New England has more personal income and more disposable personal income.

Another feature of this sort of chart is that you can "show trails" for any region that is checked. So if we were to select New England and "show trails," we’ll get a marker in the graph for each year. This marker is useful for making comparisons.

In this example, we can see that in the Southeast today the average disposable personal income per capita is about the same as it was in New England back in 2003.

You can use charts like these to craft a data-driven portrait of your town or state or region. You can use these sorts of charts to compare different towns, counties and states — that could be useful for those who are relocating.

You can use these charts to engage your audience in understanding how things happen in your area, and to develop and demonstrate expertise in understanding your community.

If you want the data to be more granular and/or you have your own data that you’d like to display, Public Data Explorer is now accepting your submissions. So go ahead: assemble your data and make charts and graphs to help people understand your town.

This sort of data visualization is really just the beginning. Hopefully more data sources will added to the Public Data Explorer and projects like it.

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