A guide to online data plotting


When you’re dealing with complex data, visualization tools can help you simplify it and, more importantly, spot key trends and gain new insights

Shweta Taneja


Sales figures, consumer behaviour and market research – the work we do often involves understanding and communicating a lot of complex information. To make good decisions, you need to be able to understand the data, and quickly. Visualization tools can simplify data, and make it easier to understand and spot key trends.

According to Deloitte’s “Tech Trends 2011: The Natural Convergence of Business and IT” report released in March, data-visualization tools were the fastest developing area in software last year.

Data in, graphic out: Visual representations of data are easier to understand.

Data in, graphic out: Visual representations of data are easier to understand.

“Data visualization compresses information quickly,” says S. Anand, 37, chief data scientist, Gramener, a Hyderabad-based data-visualization company. “For example, in a chart, a bar can give you a data set with its height, colour and thickness, so you have already compressed a table with three columns into one graph,” he explains. “A 40-page report can easily be converted into a single page of graphics.” By doing this, a large amount of data becomes easily accessible, and trends and highlights are easy to pick out, compared to a table of numbers.

“Data-visualization tools are typically designed to highlight relevant insights, rather than just present raw data as in a dashboard,” explains Stewart Langille, co-founder, Visual.ly, a new online visualization tool. Another useful aspect of viewing data as visuals is that you can highlight the information that’s really important and even get newer, completely unexpected insights into the data sets.

Like the idea? We list some of the most innovative online data-visualization tools:

Tableau Public


After you install the software, you enter the data either as a spreadsheet (Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Access) or text file with tab spaces. The software reads the file to identify variables. Once you choose the relevant variables, it creates a visual chart of your data. The software automatically tries to give the right kind of chart, but you can also manually choose from options such as bar charts, histograms, scatter plots, bubble charts, pie charts, bullet graphs, maps and heat matrix, etc. Tableau charts can also be interactive, so viewers can rearrange the data to analyse it from different perspectives. The chart is saved on www.tableausoftware.com

The downside is that visualizations and data are public—anyone can download your work. To keep it private, and for added features such as more filters and representations, you could buy the Personal Edition for $999 (around Rs. 50,300), or the Professional Edition for $1,999.

Cost: Free to use, with paid editions starting at $999.

Many Eyes


Many Eyes, launched in January 2007, is one of the first data-visualization tools, and was created by IBM Research.


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