8 great sites for one-stop data visualization

These are places to find, analyze and visualize publicly available data to use in your own materials.

Find and visualize data from external sources

"Data visualization tool" usually means a platform to analyze your own data. But sometimes a one-stop shop can be useful: A place to find, slice and visualize data from elsewhere to add to your own projects.

What follows are some of the most useful websites for official or vetted data and accompanying tools to visualize them. All of these sites, except for the last two -- WeatherSpark and DataMarket -- provide data and tools for free.

(Note: If you're looking for ways to visualize your own data, head to 22 free tools for data visualization and analysis and the accompanying chart of free data tools.)

U.S. Census Bureau

The Census Bureau collects and shares a lot more than just once-in-a-decade population counts. The yearly American Community Survey includes information about demographics such as income, education and employment, as well as economic data. Other business-related surveys contain potentially useful data as well.

Where to find it: The bureau's Data Access Tools section features tools for acquiring both data downloads and visualizations. Some dataviz-specific tools: County business and Demographics Map, Interactive Population Map and Annual Population Estimates (scroll down below the population clocks).

World Bank eAtlas

There's much more here than financial info (although of course the World Bank has plenty of that), with topics including environment, health and education as well as a slew of economic indicators.

Select a subject of interest and you'll see an interactive map where you can view additional graphs as well as choose just some available countries or regions. You can bookmark a view that you find useful, share a link to a view and download data (free account needed). Be advised that the site can be a bit slow to load.

Where to find it: World Bank eAtlas of Global Development.

Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis aggregates "83,000 U.S. and international time series from 56 sources" in a tool that lets you edit a graph's type appearance, data slice, date range and frequencies. You can also save settings, download data and more. While the visualizations aren't nearly as pretty as those from many other sites included here, the data is easy to search and the tool is intuitive to use.

Where to find it: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Economic Data.

Quandl

This site aims to "make all the numerical data on the Internet easy to find and easy to use." It currently has more than 6 million data sets from 400+ sources on topics such as economics, finance, health, education and demographics.

Quandl's tools let you subset and graph the information as well as embed resulting data visualizations elsewhere.

Where to find it: Quandl.com.

Google Public Data Explorer

As you'd expect from a Google product, search is a key feature of Public Data Explorer, with a primary aim of making large datasets easy to find as well as analyze. Data come from official sources only such as the ITU, Eurostat and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

There are several ways to visualize and interact with the data, such as bar charts, bubble charts and maps. Visualizations can be shared or embedded, although the data are not downloadable.

Where to find it: Public Data Explorer.

Esri Storytelling with Maps

Esri's "story maps" aim to make a point with geodata, not merely display them; these tend to look more like what you might see on an online publisher's site rather than a standalone graphic. While the site is there to tout Esri mapping technology, the gallery is searchable so you can find a map with data you want, especially if it involves a recent news story that might have inspired the story-mapping team to create a visualization.

Note that since this site isn't primarily about acquiring and sharing data, some of the maps may not have fresh data; make sure to check dates.

Where to find it: Story Maps.

WeatherSpark

WeatherSpark offers free interactive graphics and downloadable data for a fee that varies depending on what you're after -- $10 for two years' worth of daily data from a weather station, for example. While the site can be both a little overwhelming and confusing at times, there's a lot here if you're looking for weather information, including decades of historical data.

Where to find it: WeatherSpark.com.

DataMarket

Founded five years ago, before data startups were fashionable, DataMarket is concentrating more on selling its enterprise platform these days than on its initial mission as a public data service. However, there are still plenty of data to explore and visualize at the site --listed by country, industry and topic.

While there may not be as many useful data sets here as at other sources, the tools offer some compelling options. For example, in addition to slicing the data and changing visualization types, you can search for events and then add markers to your charts and graphs. You can also add additional data sets after creating an initial visualization.

Note: Not all data sets are free.

Where to find it: DataMarket.com.