The UK only recently got a North American-style access to information system
(the new New Yorker has a quick summary of this
) and journalists and others have been taking advantage of the sudden opening of what was until recently a very closed official culture.
The British parliamentary expense scandal, in which taxpayers found they had unknowingly picked up the tab for, among other things, an MP using a moat-cleaning service, was one legacy of this. Another is the wonderful Guardian Data Blog, which has earned its place in my RSS reader many times over.
A post today on gun ownership, which lists absolute numbers of registered firearms by police jurisdiction (Hampshire, Merseyside, West Yorkshire and so forth) was a good example of what we try to to with online interactive widgets of one kind or another - tied to a news event, created quickly, locally customizable and so forth.
It's also a good example of why I often find the blog frustrating. Without knowing the populations of the areas involved and therefore a rate, we really don't learn anything about the pattern of gun ownership in England and Wales. Dorset has about half the number of firearms that London does, which offhand I would assume means Dorset, with a much lower population, has a much higher rate, which would make sense, being a rural area. But why not add a population column and show the reader the math?
The other thing it needs is a map - enough said.
Update: The table now has rates by 10,000.