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).