• CSV Fingerprint: Spot errors in your data at a glance

    August 14, 2014  |  Online Applications

    CSV Fingerprint

    You get your CSV file, snuggle under your blanket with a glass of fine wine, all ready for the perfect Saturday night. Then — what the heck — there's a bunch of missing data and poorly formatted entries. Don't let this happen to you. CSV Fingerprint by Victor Powell provides a simple, wideout view of your CSV file, color-coded for quick quality control.

    To make it easier to spot mistakes, I've made a "CSV Fingerprint" viewer (named after the "Fashion Fingerprints" from The New York Times's "Front Row to Fashion Week" interactive ). The idea is to provide a birdseye view of the file without too much distracting detail. The idea is similar to Tufte's Image Quilts...a qualitative view, as opposed to a rendering of the data in the file themselves. In this sense, the CSV Fingerprint is a sort of meta visualization.

    Try it with your own CSV data. Never let a subpar CSV file ruin your Saturday night again.

  • Learn regular expressions with RegExr

    April 29, 2014  |  Online Applications

    RegExrLearning regular expressions tends to involve a lot of trial and error and can be confusing for newcomers. RegExr is an online tool that lets you learn more interactively. Add a body of text in one area and type various regular expressions in another. Matches are highlighted and errors are noted on the fly, which is kind of perfect. Even if you aren't new to regular expressions, this is worth bookmarking for later.

  • Raw, a tool to turn spreadsheets to vector graphics

    October 8, 2013  |  Online Applications

    Sometimes it can be a challenge to produce data graphics in vector format, which is useful for high-resolution prints. Raw, an alpha-version tool by Density Design, helps make the process smoother.

    Primarily conceived as a tool for designers and vis geeks, Raw aims at providing a missing link between spreadsheet applications (e.g. Microsoft Excel, Apple Numbers, OpenRefine) and vector graphics editors (e.g. Adobe Illustrator, Inkscape, Sketch). In this sense, it is not intended to be a full “visualization tool” like Tableau or other similar products: as the name suggests it is a sketch tool, useful for quick and preliminary data explorations as well as for generating editable visualizations.

    Although still in its early stages, Raw is actually quite useable. Start with a dataset copy and pasted from your spreadsheet, select a visualization format, and then click-and-drag how you want to represent values. Modify options as you see fit and download in the format you need.

  • Easier Census data browsing with CensusReporter

    September 17, 2013  |  Online Applications


    Census data can be interesting and super informative, but getting the data out of the dreaded American FactFinder is often a pain, especially if you don't know the exact table you want. (This is typically the case.) CensusReporter, currently in beta, tries to make the process easier.

    CensusReporter is a Knight News Challenge-funded project to make it easy for journalists to write stories using U.S. Census data. Expanding upon the volunteer-built Census.ire.org, Census Reporter will simplify finding and using data from the decennial census and the American Community Survey. The goal of the new site is to include much more data, to provide a friendlier interface for navigating all of that data, and, as much as possible, to use visualizations to provide a more useful first look at the data.

    Although the application is still a work-in-progress, it's usable and clearly on its way to an improvement over the painful default. The CensusReporter is faster, easier to use, and the graphics provide a visual summary that helps you decide if the current table is actually what you want.

  • Forecast: A weather site that’s easier to read

    March 27, 2013  |  Online Applications


    When you go to one of the major sites to look up the weather, it's often hard to find what you're looking for. The sites feel dated, there isn't much hierarchy to the information, and navigation gets buried in the show-as-much-information-as-possible-on-the-same-page approach. Forecast, a site by the makers of the Dark Sky app, hopes to improve that experience during those times you need more than the high and lows for the day from the nearest widget.

    When you visit Forecast, you notice a difference right away. There's a map with local, regional, and global views, the temperature in large print on the right, and there are descriptions about what to expect that are easy to understand.

    From there, you get your daily forecasts below the map with details on demand. So you can get a lot of the same information that you get from larger sites, but you don't get hit with a bunch of data at once, and when you request more information, you get it quickly.

    There's also an API. Forecast and the Dark Sky app both run on it, which is the cherry on top of the goodness.

    I usually go to Matthew Ericson's minimalist weather page when I'm figuring out when to ride my bike or mow the lawn. Forecast might be my new weather destination for a while.

  • Learn about politics in your state with Open States

    February 26, 2013  |  Online Applications

    Open States

    It's not especially straightforward to know or find out what's going on with your state's government. Sites aren't maintained, are unusable, or just don't provide much information. Open States, a project by the Sunlight Foundation, aims to change that.

    After more than four years of work from volunteers and a full-time team here at Sunlight we're immensely proud to launch the full Open States site with searchable legislative data for all 50 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico. Open States is the only comprehensive database of activities from all state capitols that makes it easy to find your state lawmaker, review their votes, search for legislation, track bills and much more.

    Just click on a state or enter an address, and you can quickly get information that's relevant to where you are. There's also iPhone and iPad apps if you prefer those, and all the data on the site is accessible via an API or a bulk data dump.
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  • Analyze your Facebook profile with Wolfram|Alpha

    September 3, 2012  |  Online Applications

    Facebook Wolfram Alpha

    Feeding off the momentum from Stephen Wolfram's personal analytics earlier this year, Wolfram|Alpha launched Facebook Analytics, which spits out graphs about your profile and your friends. You can see your activity over time, weekly distributions, and some general information about how people like and comment your status updates.

    I've only updated my Facebook status a few times this year, so the profile-focused information is interesting to me, but the second half of the report provides high-level aggregates about your friends. For example, I'm apparently at a stage in life where most of my friends are either married or in a relationship. You can also see how your friends are connected via a network graph.

    So you get more detail than you do out of current infographic-generators. The hook though is the links within the report that lead to information about your birthday or where you were born, kind of like when you end up reading about sasquatch on Wikipedia when your original search was actually work-related.

  • More infographic software

    May 25, 2012  |  Online Applications  |  Kim Rees


    Recently there's been a spate of infographic tools popping up (e.g., easel.ly, venngage, and infogr.am). Okay, I'm not sure if 3 qualifies as a spate, but it sure seemed like a lot in a short period of time. I gave Infogr.am a whirl, and it appears to be the front runner in terms of capabilities. Unlike easel.ly, you can *actually input data* into your infographic! What a novel concept. Venngage was hit and miss in terms of it accepting the data I entered. Infogr.am also has a bug in that you can't have the number 0 in your data. Go figure.
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  • Automated infographics with easel.ly

    May 13, 2012  |  Online Applications

    I'm pretty sure I'm not in their target audience, but my main takeaway from this video is that now, with easel.ly, you don't need time, money, or skill to make quality infographics. And the prezi-like video seems fitting.

    Maybe I'm just stuck in my ways, but I'm having trouble getting on board with these tools. Easel.ly, for example, provides themes, such as the one on the right. There's a guy in the middle with graphs around him and pointers coming out of his body. You get to edit however you want.

    So in this case, you start with a complete visual and then work your way backwards to the data, which I'm not sure how you can edit other than manually changing the size of the graphs. (Working with the interface takes some patience at this stage in the application's life.) It's rare that good graphics are produced when you go this direction.

    Instead, start with the data (or information) first and then build around that — don't try to fit the data (or information) into a space it wasn't meant for.

    Or maybe there's a lot more in store that we can't see yet. Either way, right now, the application is rough at best.

  • WolframAlpha Pro launches in an effort to democratize data science

    February 16, 2012  |  Online Applications

    Taking the next step in the Wolfram|Alpha experiment, Wolfram launches a Pro version that lets you plug in your own data and get information out of it.

    The key idea is automation. The concept in Wolfram|Alpha Pro is that I should just be able to take my data in whatever raw form it arrives, and throw it into Wolfram|Alpha Pro. And then Wolfram|Alpha Pro should automatically do a whole bunch of analysis, and then give me a well-organized report about my data. And if my data isn't too large, this should all happen in a few seconds.

    I haven't had a chance to try it yet, but the sense I get from others is that the part about data not being too large is key. Apparently it's still in the early stages and can't handle much data at once. The main hook is automated summaries, model fitting, and some graphs, but if you know enough to interpret the models appropriately, shouldn't you know enough to derive them?

    I'd love to hear initial thoughts from those who have tried it. For those who haven't, it's $4.99 per month, but there's a two-week free trail.


  • BuzzData aims to make data more social

    August 23, 2011  |  Online Applications

    BuzzData page

    In many ways, data wants to be social. It wants to get out there for people to see, interact with other datasets, and it wants people to talk about it. There aren't that many places for that to happen though. Newly launched BuzzData wants to fill that void. It's pitched as a "social network designed for data."
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  • On the Launch of Visually

    August 4, 2011  |  Online Applications

    A couple of weeks ago, Visually, a new infographics-based startup, launched with a warm reception among all the popular tech blogs. I didn't post about it right away for a couple of reasons. The first is that I've been sick for the past couple of weeks, and it's been hard to think in between all the nose-blowing. Seriously, this cold will not die. Secondly, I wasn't sure how I felt about the new site (partially due to the first reason). Now that I've let my thoughts simmer, it's clear that Visually has potential, but it's way too early to tell if it will actually work.
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  • Visualizing Player makes it easier to share visualization

    July 19, 2011  |  Online Applications

    It's easy to share static graphics. Save an image and then upload it to your own site. Boom, you're done. However, when it comes to interactive graphics, which come in a variety of file formats, it's not as straightforward. The Visualizing Player helps with this:

    We love and respect what you create and we know how much effort goes into each piece (it's why everything that gets uploaded to Visualizing is protected under a CC license). One of our core missions here at Visualizing is to build you the best possible platform and the most powerful tools for sharing those creations.

    Now when you go to Visualizing, there's an embed code accompanied with each graphic, and it's easy to share any visualization on your own blog or site. The embed works for 7 formats: HTML5, Java, Flash, PDF, Video, Image, and URL.
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  • Make Sankey flow diagrams with Fineo, sort of

    July 6, 2011  |  Online Applications

    Sankey diagram - sort of

    Whenever I post a Sankey diagram (for example, here, here, and here), someone always asks how they can make their own. I'm always surprised that so many people have data where the chart type applies, but in any case, I've never had a good answer other than open up Illustrator and do it by hand. DensityDesign tries to make Sankey diagram creation easier with Fineo.
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  • Dotspotting to make city data more legible

    June 27, 2011  |  Online Applications


    Last year Stamen Design received a grant from the Knight News Challenge to design and implement Citytracking, a project to help people gather data about their cities and gain some kind of understanding about it. Dotspotting, the phase of the project, just launched. It makes it much easier to put dots on a map.
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  • Gender and time comparisons on Twitter

    June 9, 2011  |  Online Applications

    Hate comparison

    Men and women are different. You know that. But do they tweet differently? Tweetolife is a simple application that lets you compare and contrast what men and women tweet about. Simply type in a search term or phrase and compare. For example, search for love, and 63 percent of tweets that contain that word were from women, based on the sample data collected between November 2009 and February 2010.
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  • GeoCommons 2.0, now with more mapping features

    June 6, 2011  |  Online Applications

    Harvard distance from subway

    GeoCommons, an open repository of data and maps, launched version 2.0 this week, which is more feature-rich and robust than the first. Two of the major updates have to do with the fast-changing data landscape: amount of data and browser technology.
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  • DataWrangler for your data formatting needs

    May 26, 2011  |  Online Applications

    Formatting data is a necessary pain, so anything that makes formatting easier is always welcome. Data Wrangler, from the Stanford Visualization Group, is the latest in the growing set of tools to get your data the way you need it (so that you can get to the fun part already). It's similar to Google Refine in that they're both browser-based, but my first impression is that Data Wrangler is more lightweight and it feels more responsive.
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  • Google Correlate lets you see how your data relates to search queries

    May 25, 2011  |  Online Applications

    Influenza search - Google Correlate

    A while back, Google showed how Influenza outbreaks correlated to searches for flu-related terms with Google Flu Trends. It helped researchers and policy-makers estimate flu activity much sooner than with previous methods. Google Correlate is the evolution of Flu Trends in that now you can correlate search trends with not just flu cases, but with your own data or other search queries.
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  • WeatherSpark for more graphs about the weather than you will ever need

    March 14, 2011  |  Online Applications


    You know Matthew Ericson's simple weather mashup? It shows only what you need to know for the day. WeatherSpark is the the opposite of that.
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