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Page last updated at 12:28 GMT, Thursday, 2 July 2009 13:28 UK

An exciting stats website? Believe it

Michael Blastland
Different ways of seeing stats

A new online tool puts the power of information in the hands of anyone who's interested, and turns data into animation. Here, Michael Blastland, in his regular column, gives just a taste of what the site can do.


Michael gives a brief tour of the site

I hope my video offers just a feel of what you can find out on the new OECD Factbook eXplorer website. Just as exciting is the OECD's Regional Statistics site.

Readers might also like to explore the inspiration for the OECD technique, and for many other new ideas about communicating data: animated stats about international development by the Gapminder organisation.

 The Past and Future of Information

• Art or information?

Go Figure promised to draw occasional attention to statistical eye candy.

Here's an example, sort of, titled The Past and Future of Information. I say "sort of" because no numbers were used to create it. It is openly unscientific.

Brilliant, say some. Meaningless, say others. The fuss is partly because it reignites a row between those who think data visualisation should have some data in it, particularly if it looks as if it's a graph, and those who think it has merit if it simply captures feeling or ideas in a compelling design.

So the question that animates all the argument is: does this do anything useful other than look colourful? It comes from a site called which describes itself as "a magazine about greatness". Tell me what you think of this and/or the video above.

Below is a selection of your comments.

As the only student in my school, in the 60s, to study both maths and art at A level, I find this tremendously exciting! I have always found a lot of beauty in maths and precision in art... no wonder my favourite artist is Kandinsky!
Irene Longstaff, London UK

I suppose the legitimacy of that graph depends on how much graphs have moved from being an icon of authority to a genuine language of people. In other words, if people now look at graphs like they look at newspaper articles; interesting and amusing but not reliable without sources, then they are good and useful. If they look at them as if just by being drawn they prove something, as if only people who are inherently right would draw graphs, then the above is a problem. On that basis I think it should exist, by muddying the waters for those who use graphs as sticks, perhaps it will help us move towards a more critical view on graphs, at least before we take them as truth!
Josh W, Swansea, Wales

It gives you an idea of where information comes from but has no obvious historical context. The years along the bottom of the "graph" do not appear to be connected to the graph, except to show a left-to-right development of information. But what started when?. While the inability to decipher the exact proportions doesn't really matter, the historical connection ought to be visible somehow
Kate, London

I believe there is merit in both types of visualisation - backed by data and otherwise. In my line of work visualisation of non data backed idea is essential as a form of communication. However, these type of non data backed visualisations should clearly state that they are mock ups, or examples. Using data backed visualisation is also essential, but leans more towards visualisation of rigorous analysis.

The OECD factbook explorer is quite frankly amazing. It allows people to have access to visualised data that would otherwise be financially prohibitive to obtain. Making these kinds of statistics and visualisations to the public at large can go a long way to getting support for OECD work.
Tammer Salem, Langley, UK

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