Thursday, January 25, 2007

Visualization for All

If you are into playing with data these are good times. A number of web sites that have sprung up recently that allow you explore data visually. Data360 launched in October. Swivel got a mention from the influential TechCrunch blog. Many Eyes comes from IBM Research, although you may not think so from looking at the site.

Each of these web sites allows you to upload data sets and play with how they are presented, looking for insights into the data. Of the three, Many Eyes is the most approachable. Without having to register, you can play with data sets that others have uploaded. Many Eyes has a great collection visualization tools including scatterplots, stacked graphs and treemaps as well as the more mundane bar and pie charts.

For example, when I first visited Many Eyes, someone had uploaded a data set of restaurant reviews from the San Francisco Chronicle that scored the restaurants by food, atmosphere, service, price, noise and also gave an overall score. I looked at scatterplots and determined that there was no significant correlation between atmosphere and noise and that the only factor that seemed to show some correlation with the overall score is the score for food. I also used stacked graphs to explore US government spending over the last 45 years. The takeaway is that spending on health, particularly medicare and drugs accounts for the largest increase in spending.

The only problem with Many Eyes is that as befits a open research site, anyone can upload their data set, so by the time you read this the restaurant review data may have scrolled off to be replaced by other compelling data. Go and play with whatever data is there anyway. It will be a learning experience.

Thanks to Stephen Few and his great Visual Business Intelligence blog at PerceptualEdge for pointing out these sites.

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