Software like Microsoft's Excel offers a simple way to create charts and graphs, while more complex applications, such as IBM's Many Eyes (right) provide a host of more interesting ways to visualise more complex data.
Researchers at Stanford are offering a suite of tools called Protovis that streamline the process of building data visualisations. The tools still require knowledge of programming, but are designed to be easier to implement for those without programming experience, says creator (left) Jeff Heer, a Stamford professor of computer science.
Specialised programming languages can do more by tweaking the design of visualisations. But these languages tend to be difficult for non-experts to use.
Job Voyager, a visualization built using Protovis, displays US census job data for the past 150 years. Women’s jobs in red, men’s in blue. US Census data filtered interactively by jobs, as with the suffix “ist” as in machinist
Instead of having to focus on how to structure code for the program, Protovis lets a user create simple building blocks, such as the colors and shapes needed for the visualization, then piece these together to define the complete picture. "With Protovis, you think first and foremost in visual marks on a page," Heer says. "It is our belief that this would make visualisations easier to learn and easier to modify."
Compared to other visualisation tools, such as Prefuse from Berkely University Visualization Lab or (left) Flare, Heer says that Protovis allowed Job Voyager to be created in a fraction of the time and using a fifth of the amount of code.
Heer notes that modern-data visualsations are often designed for the Web and tend to be dynamic. In the case of Job Voyager, a user can, for instance, click on a filter to see only how women's professions have changed over time. Or examine the ebb and flow of machinist jobs over the years.
Protovis is currently in an alpha release but has been picked up by the Mozilla Foundation, and it will appear in an upcoming version of its Thunderbird e-mail client as a way to visualize e-mail data, Heer says.
Martin Wattenberg, who developed Many Eyes with his IBM colleague Fernanda Viegas, thinks that visualisation is becoming an essential medium of expression, especially online.
"It may be the photojournalism of the 21st century," he says, adding that
"a system like Protovis, which lets developers easily customise Web-based visualisations, has the potential to play an important role in the adoption of this technology."
Unconvince that it's all simpler data visualisation though Gaberlunzie sees where inner and outer bio is going with ROCS offers three thoughful images most of which play interactive on their sites at Openeyes.
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