Animated data visualization mapping over time.
May 25, 2011 6:32 PM   Subscribe

What tools do I need to utilize to complete the following animated data visualization?

Considering the following variables:

1. The data for the project is a CSV that is plotted by 2 columns: Zip Code and Date.

2. Visually should be a map of the United States, with the points representing the growth of online sales to their zip codes over time. I'm essentially trying to visually show the spread of a company's online reach. Preferably with trails and moving lines, a la airline flight path animations and whatnot.

My first inclination was to look at Excel / Impress / Fireworks, but I need something more designed to do this (GIS-oriented maybe?) that I can plop the relevant CSV data into so I'm not plotting / animating a few thousand data points by hand.

Any ideas?

Full disclosure: This is the small business I work for. This is a side-project just for the funzies of datawankery. I am not shilling, nor will I mention the business in question specifically.
posted by lazaruslong to Technology (11 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Implied but not explicitly mentioned: The data points would be "flying" from a static origin zipcode.
posted by lazaruslong at 6:45 PM on May 25, 2011

Probably something related to the Processing language would be helpful. Here's an example from several years ago related to zip codes, and a link to the book that the author of that example wrote.
posted by Wild_Eep at 7:34 PM on May 25, 2011

Or something like the Google Charts GeoChart with a custom SVG file of zipcodes, perhaps. Doesn't help the animation part, but you could build individual frames. You could then string the individual frames together to make an animation.
posted by Wild_Eep at 8:03 PM on May 25, 2011

Think about what you want the final image to be. Before you set out on some complex data crunching, just think about the best way to show the it linear in growth? is it widespread? do areas have sporadic sales? In other words, if sales are jumping up all over the place, a flight path may be a bit crazy. Perhaps you could show things building in size or intensity over time.

For example, you could plug the data into a GIS program capable of 3D such as ArcScene. You could then extrude the height of each zip code moving forward through time -- however, if there isn't constant widespread linear growth this could look a bit spotty.

So, perhaps you could use color intensity over time -- say, you begin with a blank map, and each time a new area gets a sale it flashes pink and then settles to a light pink that grows in intensity over time. The flashes would show the spread of the sales and the increasing intensity would show growth. That would be fairly easy to do in ArcMap GIS.
posted by This_Will_Be_Good at 10:41 PM on May 25, 2011

This is a side-project just for the funzies...

2nding the Processing suggestion. By and large I've had a lot of fun playing with it and managed to make some useful things too.
posted by safetyfork at 4:28 AM on May 26, 2011

Yep, definitely a job for Processing.
posted by soma lkzx at 6:19 AM on May 26, 2011

I would actually try out Many Eyes first. It lets you create data visualizations quite easily and may have something built-in that you could use. Processing, if you haven't used it, definitely has a learning curve to it.
posted by sub-culture at 7:25 AM on May 26, 2011

You might want to check out Quartz Composer on the Mac. It took me a while to wrap my head around it but it is basically a real time visualizer with a visual programming language. You would probably have to grind out some special Obj-C code for your data format or if you want to drive it with a live feed.
posted by chairface at 8:37 PM on May 27, 2011

I would look at Tableau (either a trial edition or there's a free public edition with some limitations), It imports text files directly, understands zip codes as a mapping coordinate, and can do timelines. It's very easy to use, import, then drag and drop, and creates very impressive animations.

There's many examples on their website, it's also used by the Guardian and quite a few others, possibly there's examples that can be adapted for your purposes?
posted by Boobus Tuber at 7:24 AM on May 29, 2011

Whoa thanks for the heads up on Tableau. I may have to scale back the animation aspect, as I don't see that as a core feature, but it looks like that will serve my purposes with minimum learning curve and maximum speed. Thanks again!!
posted by lazaruslong at 4:21 PM on June 1, 2011

Golly I really want / need the personal license of Tableau, but a thousand bucks? No freaking way that can be priced appropriately.
posted by lazaruslong at 2:17 PM on June 3, 2011

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