It's not enough to simply write about data any longer; the world wants visuals. While there are many professional information designers making a name for themselves, such as Nicholas Felton of Feltron.com, the majority of these digital artists are up to their eyeballs in high-paying work. Where does this leave you? Well, if you want to spruce up your documents, blog posts, and presentations, there are some free tools online that can help.
This IBM Research tool gives you two choices: an option to browse through existing sets of data, or use your own. The public database includes everything from population density across the U.S. to Internet browsers by popularity. If you have your own data on hand, you can upload it to Many Eyes and craft your own visualization. The best part of this tool is that you have many different options insofar as the final product, from creating a world map to a network diagram.
Like IBM, Google has made a public version of one of its research tools. The search-engine company's version is called Public Data Explorer. It also lets you choose from existing data sets (which are numerous and neatly categorized). For example, if you want to compare the population between different U.S. states, it's a simple process that involves checking off your locations and choosing the type of chart (data is pulled from U.S. Census Bureau). To input your own data, upload your information (and if you choose to, you can make your dataset public for others to see and use). An added bonus, these charts can be embedded on your website or blog.
There are many occasions when a Venn Diagram is the perfect way to describe a concept or compare relationships among a few different things. With Hohli, you can create such a chart and customize its look and feel. Aside from specifying a title, choosing your data points, and altering the background, you can also share the time on multiple social media sites. Hohli also allows you to create other charts, including scatter plots and other line charts.
Although this tool describes itself as a "toy" for generating word clouds, it can be an effective service to spruce up your work. For example, if you're creating a presentation for a client that is looking to rebrand online, you can submit the company's URL into Wordle so it spits out a colorful design of the most popular words used on their website. You can also create your own word clouds, just add text or keywords that you want to use.
This is a new tool, currently in private beta, that will allow you to create and share infographics. From a first look on YouTube, this new service will be a great resource to create a compelling storytelling visualization. In other words, the above tools are fairly standard in terms of outputting sets of data, but Visual.ly will make it easier to create more robust infographics that are less scientific and more user friendly. To get on the invite list to give Visual.ly a try, visit their website.
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[Images by Wordle]