Data Visualization

For a long time I’ve been interested in infographics. More recently I’m finding myself increasingly interested in data visualization. I don’t currently have the time to study any programming necessary for manipulating data, so I turned my attention to something I do know about – identifying and using freely available online services. So for the last couple of days I’ve been looking at what’s available, and here are some of my findings.

I’ll start with Tableau Public. On the site there’s free software to download, and the video provides an excellent introduction to the capabilities of the software and service. It’s simply a case of importing your data set and using the intuitive and straightforward operations of the software to quickly create visual representations of the data for easy interpretation. But that’s not all. You can now upload the graph, or map, or dashboard to the web onto the Tableau Software server. From there you can access it and embed it into a blog or elsewhere. But the information is served live, so it’s interactive, therefore the readers and other users of the information can manipulate the representation to narrow an area of the data, to target specific information of interest; heck, they can even embed it into their own blog and distribute the information more widely. The fact that the Wall Street Journal and UNESCO have used it to illustrate points from raw data has to speak volumes. I’ll certainly be using it in earnest from now on.

Another service to consider is Widgenie. This is a completely online service that allows you to create five types of graphical output. There is a very useful realtime representation of the graph alongside the creation ‘wizard’. Once you’ve finished creating your ‘widget’ you can then link to the graph for example to give co-workers access, you can publish to your iGoogle desktop, or you can embed it using the supplied code into a blog or webpage. There are some useful instructional video screencasts to help you get started.

Finally, if you are wanting to study some existing data sets, relating to the UK ecomomy for example, I’d suggest having a look at Timetric. Here you can view graphs, and manipulate the data, adding in additional elements from a series to compare the data graphically. Here’s the Retail Price Index, UK: average prices of the basket of goods used as an example.

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