We received a nice review today from Stephen Few, the Founder and Principal of Perceptual Edge, an independent consultancy that specializes in the application of data visualization to business intelligence. He is also the author of Show Me the Numbers: Designing Tables and Graphs to Enlighten and Information Dashboard Design: The Effective Visual Communication of Data, and teaches in the MBA program at the University of California, Berkeley. See www.perceptualedge.com and http://www.haas.berkeley.edu/faculty/few.html
Stephen’s post regarding Data360 can be found at http://perceptualedge.com/blog/?p=67 and I’ve also published his comments below:
Not long ago I wrote about a new Web site called Swivel, which serves as a venue for posting, exchanging, and exploring data. Although I was critical of its data visualization implementation and concerned that it might encourage people to make absurd and misleading comparisons between variables, I was encouraged that such a venue for data had been created and hopeful that it would improve over time. Shortly after writing about it, I received an email from the creator of another Web site with similar intentions named Data360. Its creator, Tom Paper, invited me to take a look at Data360 and comment on it. In his email, Tom described his site as a place where “people can find, present and share data. We’ve been calling it a ‘collaborative trend tracking website’ and a ‘data dashboard for a democratic society.’” Tom pointed out ways that, despite many similarities, Data360 differs from Swivel:
Both products do similar things, although I would say that where Swivel is more playful, Data360 is more serious. Our view is that it’s too easy for charts to lie; a well-done chart tells a story and is the result of intelligent and, sometimes, creative analysis.
Data360’s target audience is businesses, academics, non-profits and governmental organizations (”BANG”), while Swivel’s appears to be more individuals (”Youtube for Data”).
On the surface, at least, Tom’s description of how the two sites differ seems fair. The folks at Swivel probably characterize their intentions differently, but even if they are trying to do precisely what Tom has described, the playful vs. serious goals of these sites are both worthwhile, as long as they serve these audiences well and discourage them from adding to the confusion and misrepresentation of the facts that already plagues the Web.
Both sites must improve the design and functionality of their graphs to provide an engaging venue for data presentation and exploration. Data360 suffers from fewer and less glaring problems than those that I found at Swivel, but this is partly due to the fact that its graphs do less. I want to encourage those of you who take data visualization seriously and have useful insights to get in touch with Data360 and Swivel to offer your suggestions and encouragement. With the right improvements, both sites could enrich the world by providing useful venues for presenting and exploration important data.
January 1st, 2007