Google makes local data, context vital
Google's announcement that they would now be entering the data visualization game is a good thing for local news sites though it might not seem like it.
This move has effectively brought the price of technology to the floor, and put the real value on the data, and stories that put that data in context. Especially important is local data; the kind of data that's often hard to get at unless you happen to have relationships with the local entities. And most local news sites have this in spades.
The data Google has now
Any search for this data, such as Tennessee unemployment rate, will return a top result for Google's Public Data.
Google said this is but the tip of the iceberg in terms of data they will ultimately index and visualize. Some ideas for future data sets include "statistics for prices of cookies, CO2 emissions, asthma frequency, high school graduation rates, bakers' salaries, number of wildfires, and the list goes on." (Not sure why cookies and bakers' salaries are mentioned, but they're interesting nonetheless.)
How Google displays the data
Google prides itself in their paired down, easy to use application interfaces and Public Data is no exception. Both the unemployment and population data are displayed in an interactive graph -- this uses the same technology as in their Analytics product -- with filtering options by state and county. You can also compare various sets of data using the filtering options.
All of this is very easy to use and avoids the typical "search and report" cliche. By visualizing the data, Google shows users immediately whether the data is significant or not.
And like the coming increase of data sets, it's assumed Google will add more visualization options as well. (I think they should take a cue from IBM's ManyEyes.)
What this means for local news sites
It's always scary to see Google or any other major player in Web technology throw their hat into a game in which you're playing. Local news sites have been gathering and displaying data sets for a few years now, and this effort from Google shouldn't induce fright.
On the contrary, Google's Public Data should tell local news sites to focus their data to local data sets that mean the most to their core visitors. This is also the data that large data sites such as Google will have a tough time getting, at least until they make it possible for local entities to upload their data into the cloud. But let's not go there yet.
It's also increasingly vital for local news sites to extract the context from data sets to tell visitors why the data is significant to them. This is the news function that Google does not have, and will not have anytime soon if you believe their CEO.
So just like local news sites should avoid running wire stories on their sites because they aren't competing with CNN or The New York Times or other national sites, they shouldn't run national data sets to compete with Google. But by avoiding this battle, local news sites open themselves to opportunities that create value for users and increased revenue.