Knowing what's possible in data visualization allows us to stay 'grounded' in what we suggest to clients; cocktail parties are another story. It's a lot of fun to imagine that you're going to create a visually stunning interactive chart that is 'self evident', it's another thing to know you need to use D3.js on Google Apps Engine (GAE) powered by Renjin with rapidly developed R algorithms. The 'how to' of data visualization is not only limited to coding languages and libraries, but also about where to deploy and what services already exist that allow you to focus on your client's needs and bring them the value they appreciate. This week we introduce some approaches to realistically wading into data visualization.
Ultimately everyone ends up working with people, and to understand what we can expect from our peers and colleagues we give them titles and positions, such as "Data Scientist". In this article on visualizing Big Data, I came across the use of "Data Animator," which is understandable in this context as the team was expecting interactive graphics from their data visualizations. What was of particular interest to me was How the data scientists took what we may typically think of as a visualization and, by making the exploration fast and easy, introduced animation to their charts in much the same way that a flip book makes a movie out of a set of pictures. This article goes into detail on how the right analysis platform can help you "tell a story" about a particular dataset, thereby animating what was once brutally intensive analysis and presentation.
I often go for the flashy visualizations, where at first glance the viewer can't help but say 'Wow', but eventually we are all hit with the reality of building these visualizations. This article goes through the D3.js and CoffeeScript code used to create a demo that offers three different perspectives on a single dataset. This is important as different people think about the data in different ways, and allowing them to transition easily, either on their own or as part of a presentation, puts the data in the right perspective.
In conversation I often find that we try to impress each other, discussing clients we're landing or courting and the size of their data, but it can be just as compelling to apply great tools closer to home. We all know about tree graphs, force graphs, layered pie charts, etc., but just as it took centuries before we put wheels on the bottom of our luggage, saving countless sore arms and backs, why haven't we applied some of these visualization tools to our own system files? Lou Montulli, a founding engineer at Netscape, recently applied his knowledge of web browsers to his file system to determine how his disk space was being allocated. The data is presented in a variety of formats, the exploration is smooth, and the depth of precision allows you to start wherever you're comfortable. Now I have to decide what to do with all those old pictures on my hard drive...
Written by: Sean M. Gonzalez