• Torque for mapping temporal data

    October 2, 2012  |  Software

    Torque example

    Mapping data over time can be challenging, especially when you have a lot of data to load in the beginning. Torque, the new open source project by CartoDB, is a step towards making the process easier.

    Torque allows you to create beautiful visualizations with big temporal datasets by bundling HTML5 browser rendering technologies with a generic and efficient temporal data transfer format created using the CartoDB SQL API. Torque visualisations work on desktop and ipads, and work well on temporal datasets with hundreds of thousands or even millions of datapoints.

    It's still in the early stages but should be one to keep an eye on.

    Check out this map for a sense of what Torque can help you do. The map animates historical edits to OpenStreetMap in Madrid. Also this. [Thanks, Carlos]

  • Easy and customizable maps with TileMill

    September 21, 2012  |  Software

    Map with TileMill

    I'm late to this party. TileMill, by mapping platform MapBox, is open source software that lets you quickly and easily create and edit maps. It's available for OS X, Windows, and Ubuntu. Just download and install the program, and then load a shapefile for your point of interest.

    For those unfamiliar with shapefiles, it's a file format that describes geospatial data, such as polygons (e.g. countries), lines (e.g. roads), and points (e.g. landmarks), and they're pretty easy to find these days. For example, you can download detailed shapefiles for roads, bodies of water, and blocks in the United States from the Census Bureau in just a few clicks.

    The fun part is that you can easily customize the maps using a map stylesheet, which is similar to CSS. There are examples with the software, so you can get a feel for how everything fits together. You can also export your results as an image file or as SVG to edit in your favorite vector-editing software. Or if you want to publish your map online, it's straightforward to upload it to MapBox with an account.

  • 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.

  • Resources for Getting Started with R

    June 4, 2012  |  Software

    R, the open source statistical software environment, is powerful but can be a challenge to approach for beginners. For me, the best way to learn R, especially on the visualization side of things, is to dive right in. Grab some data and make some charts, or better yet, find a graph you like and try to replicate it.

    R core functionality and the many available packages let you do a lot without having to know what's going on underneath. I use this approach in Visualize This and the tutorials around here. I like the satisfaction of immediate results. Then I learn the nitty gritty later.

    That said, it doesn't hurt to familiarize yourself with the environment. Also, visualization is a small part of what you can do with R, so it can help to know what else you can do analysis-wise.
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  • New open data platform launches

    May 29, 2012  |  Software  |  Kim Rees

    Junar Open Data Platform

    Open data is everywhere. However, open data initiatives often manifest as mere CSV dumps on a forlorn web page. Junar, Lunfardo (Argentina slang) for "to know" or "to view," seeks to help government and organizations take the guesswork out of developing their own software for such efforts.

    Their open data platform allows organizations to collect and select their data, publish it, create reports and dashboards, and share their data online. The solution can be hosted or integrated into the organization's website, and the data can be made open or for internal use only. End users can "follow" live data on the site, download it, or embed it. There's also a built in API, so the organization doesn't have to develop one of their own.

    Junar looks like it's ready to fill the gap in open data publishing with its soup to nuts approach. With lots of great features and an easy to use interface, it seems like a welcome change to the alternatives.

  • 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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  • Venn pie-agrams

    May 23, 2012  |  Software  |  Kim Rees

    Venn Pie-ogram

    So I got to thinking, since I'm on this pie chart kick, "what would be the worst pie chart ever?" And I decided it would be a Venn diagram made with pie charts. I laughed to myself, imagining such a creation. Then I thought, somebody's probably done this. And indeed, there's an app for that.

    At long last, the power of Venn diagrams and pie charts combine to turn the world of mathematics on its head! If you've ever felt the need to create Venn diagrams with pie charts, or wished your pie charts could overlap to provide even more informative data, then Venn Pie-agrams is the app for you!

    I'll leave it at that.

  • 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.

  • Miso: An open source toolkit for data visualisation

    April 23, 2012  |  Software

    Your online visualization options are limited when you don't know how to program. The Miso Project, a collaboration between The Guardian and Bocoup, is an effort to lighten the barrier to entry.

    While the goal is to build a toolkit that makes visualization easier and faster, the first release of the project is Dataset, a JavaScript library to setup the foundation of any good data graphic. If you've ever worked with data on the Web, you know there are a variety of (usually painful) steps you have to go through before you actually get to fun stuff. Dataset will help you with the data transformation and and management grunt work.

    One of the most common patterns we've found while building JavaScript-based interactive content is the need to handle a variety of data sources such as JSON files, CSVs, remote APIs and Google Spreadsheets. Dataset simplifies this part of the process by providing a set of powerful tools to import those sources and work with the data. Once data is in a Dataset, it becomes simple to select, group, and calculate properties of, the data. Additionally, Dataset makes it easy to work with real-time and changing data, which pose one of the more complex challenges to data visualization work.

    Gonna keep an eye on this one. I'm curious to see how the visualization component starts to build out.

  • Timelines that are Easy to Make and Use

    March 29, 2012  |  Software

    Easy timelines

    As a project of the Knight News Innovation Lab, Timeline by Verite is an open source project that lets you make and share interactive timelines. It's simple and customizable. Plug in your own data as JSON, or use the Google Docs template for an even faster route, and you're good to embed. It's also easy to grab source material from sites like Vimeo, YouTube, and Flickr. Score.

  • Live Coding Implemented

    March 19, 2012  |  Coding


    Remember Bret Victor's live coding talk from last month? He presented an example where he would edit code on one side, and the corresponding visual would automatically update on the other side. It was instant feedback that could help in learning code. Gabriel Florit implemented the idea with D3, and it's called water. Edit on the right and the diagram updates on the left. Try clicking on a number and then holding down the Alt key (or option on the Mac) for slider goodness.

    Also, check out Daniel Hooper's interactive JavaScript editor, CodeBook. It's the same idea but a slightly different implementation.

    [via Waxy]

  • Kartograph aims to make interactive vector maps easier

    March 7, 2012  |  Software

    La Bella Italia

    Gregor Aisch wanted a better way to make maps online that allowed something other than the Mercator projection, so he developed his own. The result is Kartograph, a lightweight framework "for building interactive map applications without Google Maps or any other mapping service. It was created with the needs of designers and data journalists in mind." No more tiles.

    The framework is still in its infancy, with not much documentation, but the map-making process seems to be straightforward. It's basically a two-step process. First you generate an SVG map with Kartograph's Python component, and then you load the SVG with the JavaScript component, which is built on top of Raphael.

    Check out the showcase for a sense of what it can do. You've got your choropleth, chart symbols, and 3-dimensional projections. The star however is clearly the map of Italy, complete with a cute little ferry that follows a geo path.


  • Live coding and inventing on principle

    February 20, 2012  |  Software

    This talk by Bret Victor caught fire a few days ago, but I just got a chance to watch to it in its entirety. It's worth the one hour. Victor demos some great looking software that connects code to the visual, making the creation process more visceral, and he finishes up with worhtwhile thoughts on the invention process.

  • 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.


  • Weave for visualization development

    February 7, 2012  |  Software

    Visualization with weave

    Web-based Analysis and Visualization Environment, or Weave for short, is open source software intended for flexible visualization.

    Weave (BETA 1.0) is a new web-based visualization platform designed to enable visualization of any available data by anyone for any purpose. Weave is an application development platform supporting multiple levels of user proficiency — novice to advanced — as well as the ability to integrate, disseminate and visualize data at "nested" levels of geography.

    It looks like everything is done through a click interface, and you can piece together modules and link them, etc. There is some setup involved, but there are a number of video tutorials and documents to get everything installed.

    Source code also available on GitHub.


  • Angry Birds productivity tracker

    January 3, 2012  |  Software

    Angry productive birds

    With the new year, many of you (myself included) and your employers resolved to be more productive this year. You are going to finish that side project. Learn that new language. Run that long distance. You are going to be all that you can be. Then you spent all day in front of the television yesterday while playing Angry Birds. Little did you know, productivity and Angry Birds go hand-in-hand.

    Enter Productivity Birds, created and used internally by Stamen.

    We’ve used these graphs as the simplest-possible visualization of how we spend our time so we know how we’re doing relative to the budget for a project. Operationally, the data output of these graphs feeds directly into an accrued revenue model that lets us predict our income earlier. The day/week granularity makes it possible to collect the data as a team without making everyone unhappy with management overhead, and the bias toward whole- or half-day increments helps stabilize fractured schedules (not for me, though—my time is probably the most shattered of anyone in the studio).

    Calendar time is represented on the horizontal axis and time spent on a project is the vertical. The object of the game is to hit the bird, where a bird over the pig means a risk of losing money, and a bird past the big means a risk of finishing late. The stacked area chart on the bottom shows who has been or is working on the project.

    The small app, built with Protovis, is available on GitHub.


  • Programming gets you freedom to do what you want with data

    October 26, 2011  |  Coding

    After the vote

    Casey Reas and Chandler McWilliams asked visual designers why they write their own software and how it affects their process:

    The answers reflect the individuality of the designers and their process, but some ideas are persistent. The most consistent answer is that custom software is written because it gives more control. This control is often expressed as individual freedom. Another thread is writing custom software to create a precise realization for a precise idea. To put it another way, writing custom code is one way to move away from generic solutions; new tools can create new opportunities.

    Most of the interviewees are media artists, but there are a couple of names you'll recognize. My favorite, Amanda Cox, uses a Mad Libs metaphor:

    Mad Libs is a game where key words in a short story have been replaced with blanks. Players fill in the blanks with designated parts of speech (“noun”, “adverb”) or types of words (“body part”, “type of liquid”), without seeing the rest of the story. Occasionally, hilarity ensues, but no one really believes that this is an effective method for generating great literature.

    I'm looking at you, non-programming statistician.

    Update: The article isn't there anymore, so you can read the cached page for now.

  • Quick time series visualization with Cube

    September 21, 2011  |  Software

    Cube time series

    Seeing how things change over time can be important for a business so that you can figure out what works best. Square, the company that turns your iPhone into a credit card reader, just released Cube, an open-source system to help you visualize time series data. It's built on MongoDB, Node, and D3.
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  • Explore large image collections with ImagePlot

    September 18, 2011  |  Software


    When we make charts and graphs, we usually think of the data abstractions in terms of bars, dots, and other geometric shapes. ImagePlot, from UCSD-based Software Studies, instead makes it easier to use images to understand large collections.
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  • 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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Unless otherwise noted, graphics and words by me are licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC. Contact original authors for everything else.