Google made yet another tentative step into the world of web-based BI with the launch of Public Data Explorer, a tool for analysing at least some of those public data sets that have been appearing thick and fast over the last year or so. Although it’s very fairly basic compared to other tools out there like (to pick two examples from many) Tableau Public or Timetric, it’s actually quite fun and much better than other Google efforts in this area like Fusion Tables. There’s a very limited number of data sets available at the moment and there aren’t many options for slicing and dicing, but the functionality that is there is quite slick – I especially like the way you can zoom in and out along the time dimension. Here’s a screenshot showing some European unemployment data:
Here’s a link to that analysis if you’d like to play with it yourself.
Of course, this will remain a toy until you can get more data into it: all the public data that’s available anywhere on the web, data that’s in Google spreadsheets, and maybe any data in more ‘difficult’ formats such as html tables in web pages (though that’s when you really need a complex tool like Kapow to extract it) or even any data that’s returned when you run a search (which Google has been doing to a limited extent for a year or so now; Public Data Explorer builds on this).
I’m surprised Wolfram Alpha hasn’t done something like this already; I wonder if Microsoft has something up its sleeve here too? After all it has a partnership with Wolfram Alpha to get data from there, and in Bing a search engine in search of differentiating features. Maybe Live Labs Pivot is part of the story? And given that it’s likely there’ll be some kind of cloud-based Analysis Services in the future, which I’m willing to bet would actually be more like a cloud-based PowerPivot and which will presumably work with Excel on the web, I can see Microsoft could have quite a strong story if it wanted. But this is all conjecture, of course. I wonder if there’s anyone on the Bing team who understands BI? No, I’m really making wild guesses now, so I think I’ll finish here…!