Peek-a-boo, I see you, data!

The legal information field is moving into this area slowly, but it is coming. The most ambitious use of visualization I have seen in legal research is Fastcase’s “Interactive Timeline” view of cases relevant to a query, but there is also West’s graphical representation of a case’s history, and Lexis has/will have whatever comes of their “Citation Network Viewer and Method” patent going for them.

But for now, I think the most interesting, accessible data visualizations are coming from Google. Well, that may not be entirely accurate – they are being enabled by Google, via Google Chart Tools.

For instance, the New York Times recently put up a map of the United States, “powered” by Google, with the total population and ethnicity breakdown of each census tract available by hovering a mouse cursor over the tract (this also works on a county-by-county basis). The map also plots the data with color-coded dots, making it easy see a macro-level view of where people live, making much more impact than a simple table would make.

I came across a second interesting data visualization last week, and it was directly from Google. The have put out an “Ngram Viewer,” which measures how many times a word or phrase was used in books over time. For instance, a search on “tort reform” showed a small bump at the end of the 19th century, and a massive upward trend starting around 1980. As an added bonus, they are also releasing the datasets behind the visualization (but you’ll need a good amount of computer power and dedicated statistical programs to do anything with them).

The great thing about Google Chart Tools is that you can make spiffy visualizations without having the resources of the New York Times, even though it is a bit harder than point-and-click – it isn’t the easiest API to work with. I do like the fact that you have some Google Gadget options and some JavaScript options, with the Gadget option looking a little easier to get running and embedded on a web page. Each type has documentation and an example to copy and play with. I’ll be spending a little time over the holidays doing just that. If you already have some examples of using Google Chart tools on your website, please share in the comments!

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This entry was posted in Empirical legal research, Google, Technology and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Peek-a-boo, I see you, data!

  1. Becka Rich says:

    I know that some environmental and criminal lawyers are also using ArcGIS (expensive, but powerful) to do some visualization of data. Google Maps new API is getting easier to use though which makes this more feasible with a less painful learning curve than ArcGIS.

    The newer versions of Office also have some neat data visualization options.

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