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Case study: A brief review of online visualisation tools that can help

There is a growing range of online tools to help users their data. This brief review highlights four online visualisation tools that can help. The links page also links to lots more useful resources.

Online tools that can help visualise data (these tools are free to use, but any data uploaded is typically then available on the system for other users) highlighted below include:

On the resources and links page, we also link to free software applications and libraries for visualising data, and development languages for more sophisticated data visualisation.

Many Eyes

Many Eyes was started by researchers from the IBM Visual Communication Lab, to encourage sharing and conversation around visualisations. The website provides powerful tools for users to visualise datasets in variety of attractive ways, and present the data on the web.

Users can upload datasets to the Many Eyes website, and use the visualisation tools to explore the data (see the image below for some examples). Data can be visualised in many ways, ranging from scatterplots and bar-charts, to Tree maps (exploring hierarchical structures) and Phrase nets (exploring linkages between words in texts).Currently, Many Eyes holds 33,000 visualisations and 60,000 datasets.

Image taken from ManyEyes

Note that once datasets are uploaded to Many Eyes, they are available to all users, and the results (i.e. the visualisations) remain the property of IBM - who allow you to use the results. So Many Eyes is great for different exploring ways of visualising data, but not appropriate for those wanting to visualise confidential datasets.

Gapminder World and Trendalyzer

Gapminder was founded in 2005, to increase use and understanding of statistics contributing to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. The software developed by Gapminder (Trendalyzer) was purchased by Google in 2006, and continues to be led by the original Gapminder team (there are excellent presentations by Hans Rosling on using Gapminder to examine poverty statistics - possibly the only academic talk that ends with sword-swallowing ...)

Organisations are starting to use Gapminder to publish major datasets, for example the OECD 2009 Factbook is available. Also, the Google Visualisation API (the resources and links page) allows all users to present their own data in the same way as Gapminder, using the Motion Chart.

Image taken from Gapminder


MapTube is a free resource for viewing, sharing, mixing and mashing maps online, created by UCL's Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, and currently holds 220 maps. The maps themselves are not stored on the MapTube server, but only a link to another site on the Internet where the map is already published.

Users can:

  • select any number of maps to overlay and view, for example overlaying the London Tube map onto population densities;
  • create their own maps (using Google Map Creator) and load these into MapTube.

Image taken from Maptube


Similarly to Many Eyes, Swivel has a strong focus on sharing and communication. Users can upload their data and display it to other users visually using the inbuilt visualisation tools. Uploaded data can then be used by all users of the site (although users can pay a fee to use the tool without sharing data.)

Data can be visualised in many ways, ranging from scatterplots and bar-charts. Users can also map geographic data directly onto Google Maps.

Image taken from Swivel

Free software applications and libraries for visualising data

There are many free software applications and libraries that can help with visualising data. We link to many of these on the resources and links page.

Development languages for more sophisticated data visualisation

There are a number of well developed tools and languages for more sophisticated data visualisation, with some highlighted in the table below. We link to these on the resources and links page.

Commercial software visualisation applications

The resources and links page also links to a range of commercial software visualisation applications.