I must have been living in a cave somewhere to not have heard of this before today.
Gapminder is a non-profit venture that develops information technology for provision of free statistics in new visual and animated ways. In short, it enables you to make sense of the world by having fun with statistics. Our method is to turn boring data into enjoyable interactive animations using Flash technology. Gapminder is a Foundation in Stockholm, Sweden. Funding has been mainly by grants from Swedish International Development co-operation Agency, Sida. In collaboration with United Nations Statistic Division we promote free access to searchable public data and our animations of different types of data are freely available at www.gapminder.org.
You have to take it for a test drive to see how cool it is, especially the animations to see how parameters like life expectancy, population, etc. change over time. You can pick countries to compare, or just scatter plot everyone. Look at Botswana’s life expectancy, for instance, see it peak in 1987 at 65 years and start a steep plummet to 35 years in 2004 as its AIDS mass murder (epidemic is a word that does do this one justice) took hold. To watch the dot for life expectancy drop that quickly as you animate it is pretty powerful, as powerful as a statistic can be. Each parameter you change also changes the URL, so you can send links easily.
You have to plot something against something else. Not everything is a scatter plot between two variables, you use it long enough, and you start seeing correlations (=causations!) where none exist. There’s no way to extract plots to use for later, though I guess you can do a screen capture.
Regardless, very cool, and nothing beats free access to large amounts of data that previously needed specialists to visualize and make sense of.