Data Visualization: Seeing Is Believing

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As with many cliches, the old saw about a picture being worth a thousand words is based on a strong reality: humans are inherently visual creatures. Maybe that explains the growing buzz around data visualization.


One of the most interesting examples of the trend is IBM's Many Eyes, which Xconomy blogger Wade Roush describes as Big Blue's "grand experiment in collaborative data visualization."


"It's the stories people tell around visualizations that make them interesting," the leader of the Visual Communications Lab at IBM Lotus's Collaborative User Experience (CUE) Research Group tells Roush. IBM includes Many Eyes in its Alphaworks, a Web environment where early adopters can test specific IBM software innovations. Some 40 percent of the ideas in Alphaworks are ultimately included in IBM products.


In the first nine months, Many Eyes users uploaded more than 8,700 data sets and saved more than 6,000 visualizations based on them. As Roush notes, one of its most intriguing features is the ability to save and share snapshots of specific views for discussion. This leads to what the IBM leader calls "social data analysis in motion."


A blogger on FlowingData cites this social data analysis, along with user accountability, as pros of using Many Eyes. He is less enthusiastic about the data reliability, data uploading process and the user interface. Nonetheless, he likes it. In fact, his post is presented as a kind of love letter to Many Eyes.


In an interview with IT Business Edge, S2 Intelligence Pty Managing Director Bruce McCabe says applications like Many Eyes, which adds a human element to machine analysis, seem especially valuable in light of companies' desire to find out more about their customers. Says McCabe:

If we then combine the folksonomy type of processes that are going on with people using tagging and mine clouds and other techniques -- those kinds of things are quite readily able to be mined by machine and potentially quite rich additional sources of insight that could be included in business analytics. So we've got this social networking phenomenon we are right in the middle of now -- combining that with machine-based structured data analysis is quite exciting. If you look at a site like eBay, there's already a social ranking and rating system in progress; combine that with some other types of data, and it could be very powerful.

IBM is also an advocate of 3D technologies, as seen in this Technology Review Q&A with the VP of storage and technology for its software group. Such technologies are becoming more sophisticated and less expensive, which means we may soon see more projects like the one undertaken by Wachovia tocreate 3D maps of its data centers.


The purpose, reports Computerworld, is to run visualizations of IT assets that will help Wachovia predict the business impact of local power outages and other scenarios, and that may also help it design "greener" systems.