Visualization as I see it.

Category Archives: tools vs. launched recently with a great deal of fanfare.  As the promotional video below explains, was “built to showcase great visualizations” and “is a community for exploring, sharing, creating and promoting great visualizations”. has partnered with several organisations, such as National Geographic, Good Magazine, JESS3 and Column Five Media, who routinely produce high quality infographics and visualizations.  So, at launch had a couple of thousand visualizations in its showcase.  As you’d expect provides all the tools you’d expect of a community web-site; you can comment on, like, share and embed any of the visualizations hosted by

However, is not new.  A similar web-site has been in existence for a year or more:  Many of the visualizations hosted by have also been posted on  Although, has been around longer its collection of visualizations is smaller (about 500 by my reckoning).  You can also rate, embed and share visualizations hosted by  A nice feature of is that its visualizations are made available under a Creative Commons license.

Where is streets ahead of is their recently announced Visualizing Player, which is used to embed visualizations hosted by  It supports HTML5, Java, Flash, PDF, video and image formats, which means that dynamic, interactive visualizations can be deployed using the player.  Currently, offers only static images.  This is perhaps why is dominated by static infographics, whereas hosts a much broader range of visualizations. is planning to offer on-line tools for creating visualizations.  The tools are currently under development but Robert Kosara (who is an advisor to was shown a demo and was suitably impressed.  I’ve signed up to be notified when the tools become available, so watch this space…


Tilt: Visualize Web page DOMs in 3D

As a software developer I often find the need to dive into the DOM of a Web page, and I usually use the Firebug or Web Developer plug-ins for Firefox to do this.  So, I was intrigued when I came across Tilt, a Firefox plug-in that visualizes a Web page in 3D.  The video clip below shows Tilt in action.

I installed the Tilt plug-in and took it for a test flight.  I’ll be sticking with Firebug and Web Developer for the time being; Tilt represents a cool example of WebGL used for 3D visualization but it’s more of developer’s toy than a serious development tool.

What Do You Love? Visualization

Recently, Google quietly launch WDYL (What Do You Love?)  You provide a search query, which WDYL uses to build a web portal to several Google web-sites:

  • Search (image, patents, book, blog, maps, news)
  • Alerts
  • Trends
  • Gmail
  • Sketchup
  • YouTube
  • Translate
  • Moderator
  • Voice
  • Groups
  • Calendar
  • Earth
  • Chrome
  • Mobile

Natuarlly, one of the first searches I tried was for “visualization”.  Here’s the result and a screenshot (see below).

A few of the links are quite useful, e.g. I added the Google Alert web-feed to my Google Reader account, but exploring visualization in 3D (Sketchup) or scouring the earth for visualization (Google Earth) don’t make sense (but they might for other queries).

Anyway, give it a go – if you find anything interesting please let me know.

Open Source Scientific Visualization (vs. Information Visualization)

A colleague recently sent me a link to ParaView, an open source scientific visualization tool.  In my day job I usually work with information visualization techniques but that wasn’t always the case;  my visualization career began with scientific visualization (a post-doc working with 3D confocal microscope data).

So what’s the difference between scientific and information visualization?  According to Wikipedia, scientific visualization is:

… primarily concerned with the visualization of three-dimensional phenomena (architectural, meteorological, medical, biological, etc.), where the emphasis is on realistic renderings of volumes, surfaces, illumination sources, and so forth, perhaps with a dynamic (time) component

and information visualization is:

… the visual representation of large-scale collections of non-numerical information, such as files and lines of code in software systems, library and bibliographic databases, networks of relations on the internet, and so forth

A couple of examples are shown at the end of this post.

Personally, I think the main difference is the domains from which the data to be visualized is drawn.  Scientific visualization tends to deal with data from the physical sciences; astronomy, meteorology, physics, engineering, geology, biomedicne etc. whereas information visualization works with data sets from different (non-physical) science domains and non-scientific domains.  As a result the nature of the data and the questions being asked also differ and lend themselves to different visualization techniques.  So, for example, scientific visualization makes use of volume rendering and vector field diagrams, which provide a direct view of physical data, whereas information visualization uses parallel coordinates and network diagrams which are abstract representations of non-physical data.  These are generalisations of course; information visualizations can be applied to physical data and scientific visualizations can be used with non-physical data, but as a general rule the difference is the data domains.

So, returning to ParaView, upon seeing it I wondered what other FOSS scientific visualization tools were available these days.  Here’s what I found:

  • ParaView: built atop of the venerable VTK visualization toolkit
  • VisIT: developed by the Department of Energy to visualize the results of terascale simulations
  • OpenDX: IBM open-sourced their Data Explorer product

If you know of any others then please let me know.

Scientific Visualization: Star formation

Information Visualization: Internet map

Data Wrangler & Google Refine

The productive folks over at the Stanford Visualization Group (also responsible for the wonderful Protovis toolkit) have released a new on-line tool called Data Wrangler:

Wrangler is an interactive tool for data cleaning and transformation.
Spend less time formatting and more time analyzing your data.

The video clip above shows Data Wrangler in action.

The tool is in alpha but looks very promising.

Google offer a similar tool, Google Refine, which takes a different approach to the problem of data preparation – see the video clip below for example.

So, we’re spoiled for choice when it comes to free, high quality tools for preparing data for visualization.  Next time you have a data set that needs scrubbing before presentation give Data Wrangler or Google Refine a go…

Number Picture: A New Kind of Social Visualization Tool

Number Picture is a new web-site whose aim is to provide a tool to enable people to visualize their data.  In this regard it is similar to previous social visualization efforts such as IBM’s Many Eyes, Tableau Public and the (now defunct) Swivel.  Where Number Picture differs considerably from these other tools is that the crowd-sourcing emphasis is on the visualization designs rather than the data – that is, users of the site are encouraged to contribute new visualization designs, called templates, with which to visualize data.

Currently, there are more than 30 templates.  Hopefully, this number will grow as designers contribute new templates to the site.  Templates are written using the Processing.js toolkit.  Instructions are provided to get you started.

Above is shown a visualization I created using Number Picture with data sourced from ONE The Data Report 2011.  The same data visualized using a different template is shown below.

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