Tool Reviews

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Each semester, data storytelling classes at Emerson College (Catherine D’Ignazio) and MIT (Rahul Bhargava) review the latest tools in the data visualization & storytelling space to help you understand what’s worth the effort to learn. We review primarily free and widely available tools. Our reviews are geared towards journalists and storytellers who have basic tech skills but don’t spend their days wrangling code. Do you know a great tool that’s not reviewed here? Drop Catherine (@kanarinka) or Rahul (@rahulbot) a line on Twitter and we’ll add it to our list.

Publishing Platforms

Recommended

  1. Medium: An easy to use publishing platform with social media component.
    Ari’s Review | Christina’s Review.
  2. Storify: User friendly platform for multimedia storytelling. Great for aggregating conversations about an event or topic.
    Christina’s Review
  3. Creatavist: A publishing platform that allows you to utilize parallax scrolling. It’s easy to use but has a limited amount of free uses.
    Abbey’s Review |������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������Tatiana’s Review
  4. WordPress: Wordpress.com is limited. Wordpress.org costs money for hosting but allows users to install hundreds of plugins to expand their site.
    Casey’s Review
  5. Silk: A free platform to publish your data. Import clean data to turn it into simple visualizations and webpages.
    Stephen’s Review
  6. Cowbird: Storytelling platform by Jonathan Harris- Xuan’s Review

Not Recommended

  1. NewHive: a multimedia collage tool, hard to work with and gives a little too much freedom.
    Claire’s Review
  2. Racontr:��an interactive storytelling platform in beta mode, making it hard to complete a story.
    Maddie’s Review | Amanda‘s Review

Not Reviewed

  1. StoryBuilding: pay model
  2. Exhibit: publishing platform for interactive data stories

Mapping

Recommended

  1. ESRI StoryMaps – Jackie – Perfect  for making interactive maps with narrative elements. With this, you can create very visually appealing graphics . A little difficult, but if you have time to dedicate its good.
  2. CartoDB – Great, simple mapping tool. Tons of great features with the free version, easy to upload and manage data within their portal. Definitely need to dig around and watch the tutorials or make a few “fake” maps before trying to work on a real project. Bridget’s Review. Anna’s Review.
  3. MapStory – A look at an application used observe cartographic information and contribute research to this specific community. Topics range from weather, geography, and time progression. Brenden’s Review.
  4. Knight StoryMaps–  A great, easy to use, interactive visualization tool for those who want to tell a geographically based story, or a story that follows a  specific timeline. Taylor’s Review. Tatiana’s Review.
  5. Mapbox: Online interactive maps. Desi’s Review.

Not Reviewed Yet


Timelines

Recommended

  1. TimelineJS – Abbey – A tool for building timelines. Easy to use and update as necessary. Not ideal for large data sets.
  2. Tiki Toki – Jackie – A web-based tool used for interactive timelines. Can incorporate video, text, and photos in one visualization Not great for big data set because you must manually import points.

Images, Slideshows & Multimedia

Images, Slideshows & Multimedia

Recommended

  • Prezi – Brendan – Prezi’s simple format is good for class presentations and conferences, but not so much for Data Visualization
  • ThingLink – Casey- ThingLink is a tool that takes a basic still photo and creates an interactive with it. It is extremely user friendly and almost anyone who has basic computer literacy can enjoy its benefits. Basically, you take any photo and place “nodes” on it wherever you choose. These can include text, links, photos, videos, and more. The reader would then be able to interact with the photo. It is a program that doesn’t do too much, but can be an interesting and interactive addition to a data story.

Not Recommended

  1. Meograph – Jennifer’s Review: Meograph is a multimedia tool that allows you to create digital stories through moments – slides, photos and/or videos. Meograph is simply an advanced slideshow. Very user friendly, it also includes maps that  can create 4D (dimensional) story telling, and links to create an interactive piece. Although, I believe Meograph isn’t as powerful as some of these other tools on the blog; to me it’s a basic tool that could (if anything) add to your data driven story.
  2. SuperSized JQuery Plugin – If you’re comfortable with HTML coding and have a WordPress account that allows for plugins, this is a great way to create fullscreen slideshows of pictures to accompany your article. With that said, it feels a bit overly complicated for what your final product is. Anna’s Review
  3. Photoshop–  A powerful photo editing and visualization tool used by novices and professionals alike. With a wide array of adjustments, it can take time and patience to master.

Not Reviewed

  • Kuler Color Helper
  • Color Brewer – Help with picking map colors
  • Odyssey.js: interactive online map-based stories
  • Steller: A visual storytelling app. Only for mobile.
  • Storehouse: Another visual storytelling app. Only for mobile.

Charts & Graphs

Recommended

  1. Datawrapper- Maddie’s Review- a  tool that creates interactive graphs and charts. It’s easy to use and looks great, but isn’t super customizable unless you pay for the service.
  2. plot.ly – Liz
  3. Raphael.js: vector graphics library in Javascript- Tami’s Review
  4. Highcharts.js: interactive chart in Javascript- Danielle’s Review
  5. Google ChartsMary’s Review
  6. Plotly: online charting platform- Edwin’s Review
  7. Raw: Webapp to create custom graphics using D3 libraryHarihar’s Review

Not Recommended

  • ManyEyes – Ari’s Review: ManyEyes is online platform for creating basic data visualizations, but it’s extremely buggy and doesn’t work.
  • Tableau – Amanda
  • Datawrapper��- Jennifer’s Review: According to it’s website, Datawrapper is an open source tool that allows users to create simple, correct and embeddable charts. In my experience on the other hand, my data set was too complicated for it.��������It seems user-friendly, but the way that the site interprets the data is sloppy. Although,  if you have a number based data set Datawrapper would be a powerful tool to use.

Not Reviewed


Network Analysis

Not Reviewed

  • D3 Force Layouts
  • Gephi
  • Kumu.io

Infographics

Recommended

  1. Infogr.am – Claire’s Review – an infographic tool with limited functionality. Good for beginners.
  2. Piktochart- Ceri’s Review

Word Visualizations

Recommended

  1. Storify. Description. Christina’s Review.

Not Recommended

  1. Wordle – Cassandra’s Review������– This tool is interesting and easy to use, is not a helpful visualization to embellish stories.

Not Reviewed

  1. Word Counter – Quickly takes a chunk of text or uploaded file and shows you the words that occur with the most frequency. Shows bigrams and trigrams.
  2. Visible Tweets –  Possibly just for events. Visualizes tweets based on certain hash tag.

Data Scraping

Recommended

  1. Scraper Chrome ExtensionVal’s Review

Not Recommended

Not Reviewed


Data Cleaning

Recommended

  1. Tableau – Amanda- This data cleaning program can help users see and understand data. Think of it like a sophisticated Google Refine/Excel tool. You can clean large data sets and make them into comprehendible visualizations.
  2. Excel: Excel is a great, multipurpose, WYSIWIG tool for data exploration. It is widely used and available, though not free.  There are many resources and tutorials for learning it. Notable data features include Pivot Tables, formulas and charting tools.

Not Reviewed

  1. NodeGoat
  2. Web Frequency Indexer – Quickly takes a chunk of text and shows you the words that occur with the most frequency
  3. CometDocs – Converts PDFs to Excel
  4. OpenRefine: tool for cleaning messy data

Data��Exploration

Not Reviewed

  1. Excel
  2. Voyager (Jeffrey Heer’s lab)

Programming Libraries

Recommended

  1. Pandas: data analysis library for Python- Nolan’s Review
  2. NLTK: natural language processing for Python- Alyssa’s Review
  3. R-Project: environment for statistical computing- Laura’s Review

Not Reviewed

  1. Scikit-learn: machine learning in Python
  2. NumPy: scientific computing in Python
  3. Processing: programming environment for visualization

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Contributors to this page

Catherine D'Ignazio
By: Catherine D'Ignazio

Catherine is an Assistant Professor of Civic Media and Data Visualization at Emerson College.

By: Rahul

By: dalia