I was never too great with numbers or math. I guess you could call me a visual learner. Which is why I was intrigued after exploring Gapminder.org. The non-profit organization behind the website says it's dedicated to "unveiling the beauty of statistics." They attempt to do this with impressively interactive and animated graphs. The cool part is in the Gapminder World, which visually displays a wealth of statistics "about social, economic and environmental development at local, national and global levels." Their goal is to make the data, which comes from organizations like the United Nations and World Bank, accessible and understandable by anyone.
The key is seeing how different parts of the world have changed over time. After setting and comparing data based on a wide range of variables, you can hit Play, setting into motion the bubbles (each of which represents a country or more specific location) that float around the axes as the years change.
As an example, I wanted to compare life expectancy to income per person (click here to see the graph). Not surprisingly, 100 years ago European countries had the highest numbers of each category, with East Asian and Pacific countries' numbers being much lower. Set into motion, as time goes by, countries worldwide start to increase life expectancy and income per capita. By 2006, Asian countries have caught up to many European countries.
The software is versatile, but it does have a bit of a learning curve. At first, it all looks like a jumble of colored bubbles. But it is relatively simple compared to a spreadsheet full of numbers. An instruction sheet is also available here (pdf). If you don't want to delve too deeply into graphs and statistics, the site has a videos page with the energetic professor and director of the Gapminder Foundation Hans Rosling, who walks you through a number of interesting examples of data visualizations. I particularly enjoyed his "Debunking myths about the 'third world'" speech, which you can watch below.
(Hat tip to the YouThink blog)