Software for beautiful, interactive data visualization
April 5, 2011 8:10 PM   Subscribe

Do you have recommendations for good data visualization software for the Hans Rosling fan?

My professor and I are impressed by Hans Rosling's amazing statistical visualization for public communication work. We're no tech experts (though we might have access to some) and our ambitions and needs are much less than those on the Rosling scale.

However, we were wondering what software packages are available out there that we can buy (we have a bit of research money that has to be spent on software and equipment very soon or it will be taken away...) which help us easily turn research data (statistical and/or qualitative e.g. story analysis) into beautiful, engaging visual packages for public communication and especially *to help us (and users) tell good stories about the data*.

What would be even more awesome if this software helped us make this visualization of data interactive and manipulable online for public users.

Thanks so much for any tips!
posted by zresearch to Computers & Internet (6 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Well, I don't know what your requirements are, but JFreeChart is a rather nice charting library for Java. It's also free, so perhaps you could spend the money on having someone build you some tools with it. The charts I remember form Rosling's TED talk are called Bubble Charts, if that's specifically what you'd like to have.
posted by axiom at 8:19 PM on April 5, 2011

You could take a look at Tableau Software. It's a professional data visualization package. I assume that it's pretty expensive, but it sounds like you're in academia so maybe there's an educational version/discount.
posted by madmethods at 8:27 PM on April 5, 2011

Two things that we've started to investigate: turning our SAS Map data and turning it into an Google Maps overlay(PDF) instead of a static map.

I'm now making a bubble chart similar to the Hans Rosling ones using the techniques I learned after dissecting the macros in the excel sheet linked off ExcelHero. It is time intensive, but for the project I am working on, it is the only tool my clients are willing to use.

From my limited research into other packages, the cost for implementation, plus the learning curve and the ultimate utility for us made them a wash...
posted by Nanukthedog at 9:30 PM on April 5, 2011

From one perspective the answer is "learn how to code, do it in Processing," but if you're looking for a software magic bullet so much of this depends on what you're trying to do - change over time? Mapping? How important is putting it online? What kinds of stories are you trying to tell?

I think the best thing you could do is pick up some Tufte books and learn the basics of data visualization; a very small part if it is having the software, actually knowing how to generally convey information in an effective way is the other 95%.
posted by soma lkzx at 9:44 PM on April 5, 2011

Google bought Rosling's company Gapminder and his Trendalyzer software, and makes it available at

The king of this field used to be IBM's Data Explorer, now open sourced at . Not sure what's the best now, but that might be a good starting point.
posted by at at 11:38 PM on April 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

On the surface, these graphs look beautiful, but to get to that point requires refinement of messy raw data. One amazing toool to deal with huge data sets is google refine
posted by radsqd at 11:34 AM on April 6, 2011

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