Graphical Visualization - Making Sense Out of Data
I have long been a fan of graphical visualization of data. Examining tabular data vs. looking at graphs involves different areas of the brain, I am told. And we are quicker to see trends and relationships when viewing data graphically.
This arena has seen much activity in research areas in university environments over the years, but it doesn't seem to have hit the mainstream in accepted business tools, beyond the graphical charting capabilities of spreadsheets. Several years ago a few new tools appeared in areas that require a rapid grasp of trends, and more recently there have been some new types of graphical tools used in displaying search engine results. This is certainly an area that provides a large volume of information to be displayed, and site users are interested in sifting out the items that are closer to the target of their search.
The top graphical display tools I have seen are:
- SmartMoney's 'Map of the Market' - a graphical display of stock market performance that is staggering in its ability to show trends, whether market trends in general or in particular sectors
- LivePlasma (www.liveplasma.com and www.musicplasma.com) - a graphical display that uses Amazon's recent purchase history to visually display "people who bought A also bought B" information; a kick to explore
- Grokker (www.grokker.com) - a search engine that "clusters" the results (groups them into like categories) AND offers a graphical representation you may use for drill down
- Kartoo (www.kartoo.com) - another search approach that provides more visual clues on screen (relationships between results) and some nice mouseover clues as well
- The TouchGraph browser - a rich though somewhat visually confusing display of data relationships
If you know of some good graphical display tools that really seem to work well in helping you see trends in data, please suggest them to me. Of the ones above, the SmartMoney site is without a doubt the best example. But it uses a piece of software that was developed separately (I believe in a university environment) and they license it for lots of money (too much for me).
As we get buried in more and more "data" we will graphical visualization tools to help "mine" it and turn it into "information" that we can use. Data mining tools try to find the relationships and correlations mathematically, but I would prefer to see better visual "glasses" we could use as overlays - so we the humans can see trends and relationships quicker and easier.
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