Tools

  • D3.js

    Create interactive visualizations from data using Javascript.

  • Tableau

    Data analysis and visualization platform.

  • Many Eyes (NOT RECOMMENDED)

    Online data visualization platform developed by IBM.

  • Wordle

    Easy word cloud creation tool

  • Piktochart

    Offers various infographic templates.

  • TimeMapper

    Geographical & historical timelines that include maps, videos and images

  • Dipity

    Easy interactive timelines with media content featured.

  • TimeToast

    Helps creates interactive timelines with images and text

  • ZeeMaps

    Creates hosted and interactive maps, allows for crowdsourcing.

  • Import.io

    Capturing data through extracting from the web.

  • Open Refine

    Cleans up messy data

  • Vojo.co

    Audio and text Storytelling through mobile phones.

  • Storify

    Storify aggregates content from social media sites and hosts them on the Storify site as a story.

  • Excel

    A widely available, multipurpose tool for data exploration.

  • Knight StoryMaps

    Easily create interactive, map based visualizations while incorporating other visuals from outside sources

  • Google Earth

    Create & view 3D maps; Get directions & create virtual tours

  • Visible Tweets

    Visualize pubic tweets

  • datavisu.al

    Make data visualizations (a beta version)

  • CartoDB

    Store and visualize geospatial data on the web; Create animated, GPS data or choropleth maps.

  • ChartBlocks

    Data visualization tool (features primarily charting tools)

  • Charted.co

    Creates a charts based on the inserted URLs

  • ThingLink

    An interactive, online, media platform to create multimedia stories

  • Word Counter

    Counts the most frequently used words, 2-word phrases, and 3-word phrases in a body of text

  • Tiki Toki

    An app to make multimedia timelines

  • MapStory

    Collaborate, create, and share maps and information with other users

  • Plotly

    Online collaborative data analysis and graphing tool; create, share, fork and comment on other's plots. Create dashboards.

  • Google Charts API

    A data visualization tool that allows for a clear and potentially interactive web-based experience between the viewer and the data. Create custom charts that can be embedded on a webpage.

  • Meograph

    A multimedia storytelling tool

  • Silk

    A free platform to publish your data. Import clean data to turn it into simple visualizations and webpages.

  • ESRI StoryMaps

    Interactive maps with narrative elements

  • Mapbox

    Mapbox is a cloud-based tool for publishing customizable, interactive maps.

  • Timeline JS

    An open-source tool that builds visually-rich interactive timelines .

  • Datawrapper

    An open-source interactive charts

  • RaphaelJS

    A small JavaScript library for vector graphics

  • Highcharts JS

    A complex JavaScript tool to create chart visualizations

  • RAWGraphs

    An open-source tool for creating simple visualizations

  • Google Chrome Scraper Extension

    A browser extension for Google Chrome that quickly and easily scrape data from websites inside the browser

  • Pandas

    Data analysis library for Python

  • NLTK

    Natural Language Toolkit: a processing tool for Python

  • R-Project

    Environment for statistical programming

  • Infogr.am

    Creating infographics easily

  • Trifacta Wrangler

    Trifacta Wrangler is a tool for data cleaning and reshaping. It is new, free, and superior to any of the other alternatives in the market. It has a built-in tutorial to make the data cleaning process easier. Its most notable feature is a smart suggestion system that allows the user to experiment with the data before making permanent changes. Media Type/s: tool for data cleaning. Skills: It…

  • Knight StoryMaps

    Knight StoryMaps is an immersive tool that allows storytellers to create seamlessly interactive map based visualizations while combining other visual media from external sources from the web and much, much more. Media Type/s: Maps, photos, videos, text and audio Skills: Easy. Only a few basic instructions to follow Cost: Free Open Source: Yes Recommended: Yes Visit: Knight StoryMaps   Screenshots What is the tool designed to…

  • PhotoSphere for Google Streetview

    Photo Sphere is an extension of the Google Streetview App that allows users to publish their own 360º street view images to Google Streetview. This a really great tool for letting Google users see the world while also building their profile with the places they have been. Media Type: Pictures Skills: Extremely easy and user friendly Costs: Free to download…

  • Kuler tool review

    Kuler is a color selection tool of different color themes that users of Adobe Illustrator can use for free by downloading to their own Adobe program. You can even create your own color themes and upload them for others to use. Instructions on how to create your own color themes  Media Type/s: Color selection Skills: Easy, just join the Kuler site and start creating…

  • Coblis

    Coblis is a tool that simulates color blindness. For those who suffer from color blindness, it is difficult to discern the actual colors of things in our everyday lives (i.e. traffic signals). Media Type/s: .jpeg, .png Skills: Easy – Follow the instructions provided by the site Cost: FREE Open Source: No Recommended: Yes Visit: Coblis Screenshots What is the tool designed to do? Who is it…

D3 photo

D3.js

September 15, 2014

D3.js: JavaScript Data/ DOM manipulation Library

D3.js is a Data-Driven Document library that allows users to create custom, interactive and dynamic visualizations within a web browser. The library acts as a collection of of documents based on data that can be used for transforming data, creating data stories, and making customized visualizations, similar to those used by prominent news organizations and expert data scientists.

D3 uses HTML, SVG, and Canvas to transform the data. Free to use, D3 would need a user with existing programming knowledge to create various visualizations.

Content details: Use an existing dataset. Media Type/s: JavaScript Data Visualization Library Skill level: Difficult (with a supportive community) Cost: Free Open-source: Yes Recommended: Yes Visit: D3.js

Screenshots

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What is the tool designed to do? Who is it designed for?

D3.js is a Data-Driven Documents library (thus the three Ds in D3.js) written in JavaScript for creating Data Visualizations that can be rendered in a modern web browser. D3.js consists within an ecosystem of technologies based around HTML-5 , which also includes SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics), Canvas (scriptable bitmap images), and JS (JavaScript), so having a little background in these technologies is essential for successful implementation of D3.js. This custom data visualization tool was designed for advanced data journalists, storytellers and researchers seeking an interactive data visualization option. It serves as an expansion of the Protovis framework and allows users to have a great amount of control over the final result. Companies and organizations who currently use D3.js include Datameer, The New York Times, and OpenStreetMap. D3.js is also known for its utility in GIS mapmaking.

How do you learn it?

As mentioned, D3.js utilizes HTML-5, SVG, and Canvas, so in order to learn D3.js, you must have a semi-working knowledge of how to run code and work with these languages. Additionally, the resource section on the site there is an introduction, examples gallery, tutorials & talks and API Reference notes. There are numerous tutorials online and a supportive online community for D3.js, so do not get discouraged if it is challenging at first.

How long has the tool been around? Who authored it?

Data Driven Documents (D3.js) was initially launched in 2011, but its most recent stable release was November 22, 2016. It was developed by Michael Bostock, Jeffrey Heer, and Vadim Ogievetsky (see links for personal data visualization websites), who additionally wrote an academic paper explaining D3.js and its origination.

Do you think it’ll be around in 5 years?

Absolutely. D3.js is considered as one of the cutting edge tools for data visualization and truly allows the user to have the most control over their visualization. The tool is also extremely new and is actively being developed, so users can expect updates and future editions. Unlike many other tools, D3.js does require quite the learning curve to learn, so it will take some time for it to become something that is widely understood and used. D3.js has grown off the failed tools that aimed to make web pages more interactive. The most notable predecessors include Prefuse, Flare and Provotis toolkits. D3.js using JavaScript aims to “provide a more expressive framework that, at the same time, focuses on web standards and provides improvied performance” (Bostock, Ogievetsky & Heer 2011). Ultimately, because the quality and possibilities of D3.js visualizations are endless, it will likely be around until a better option is offered.

Recommendation

Yes. While difficult to understand D3.js is the most effective tool for dynamic, engaging, and interactive data visualizations and is definitely worth the time it takes to learn to use.

Examples of data stories that used this tool

Below are a variety of examples of D3.js visualizations as well as how they might be used.

Contributors to this Review

Rachel Hanebutt and Madison Noteware


Tableau

Tableau

September 15, 2014

Tableau is a software company that produces a family of free data visualization products: Tableau Desktop, Tabelau Server, Tableau Online, Tableau Reader & Tableau Public. Tableau Desktop is a data analysis tool that is as easy as dragging and dropping to analyze data. Tableau allows users to create interactive web data visualizations (i.e. maps & charts) from spreadsheets or files. Tableau is currently only available for Windows, however, they are developing a Mac version.

Media Type/s: Charts, visualizations
Skill level: Easy (follow some tutorials)
Cost: Free – ultimate payment needed see this calculator 
Open-source: No
Recommended: Yes
Visit: Tableau Products

Screenshots

TableauMaximo-Screenshot Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 10.57.50 AM Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 11.03.58 AMScreen Shot 2015-04-13 at 11.06.06 AM

What is the tool designed to do? Who is it designed for?

Tableau charts are sleek, interactive, and intuitive. A ton of media organizations use them, including the Wall Street Journal, CNN Money, and CBS Sports. The best part—you don’t have to be a data analysis expert to use the software. Tableau is designed to make data easier to understand for both users and their audiences, using resources to create data visualizations. Once you’ve created a profile online, you can download the app, which is what users use to create visualizations, charts and graphs to represent their data. Tableau is designed to work with spreadsheets of data, (.csv or .xlsx, for example) and transforms them into a selection of more digestible representations. Tableau can work with huge datasets or small datasets, allowing the user to clean up the data in the “Data Source” screen before turning it into a visualization. It is important to properly clean the data before it is used in Tableau, however, as it can be harder to spot issues once a graphic has been created. Tableau Public enables users to create dashboards for sharing, with interesting interactive features. The community within Tableau Public can filter anyone else’s data, sort it, and download and export any new stuff they’ve made from public data on the site.

Tableau Public and Tableau Reader are free. Tableau Server and Tableau Desktop come with a 14 day fully functional free trial period, and after that the software costs money. Tableau Desktop comes in both a Professional and a lower cost Personal edition. Tableau Online is available with an annual subscription for a single user, and scales to support thousands of users.

Tableau 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 visualization just like Google Refine/ Excel can. The added benefit is being able to share the data sets and visualizations through the cloud in a secure settings. Also, no plugins! It can all be done through your browser if you’d like Google Refine! So ideally, you and third parties can share and view data/ visualization projects in a protected manner.

As the administrator, you are in charge of maintenance: which includes being able to add members, view and edit existing projects and data connections and maintain schedules and tasks.

Each project is provided its own dashboard, which is located on the homepage. Click on the dashboard (like you would on WordPress to get access to a blog page), and then you are able to look at the data sets/ visualizations on the homepage.

Once you are on the page, you can make your own edits to the preexisting data/visualizations. You are also allowed to comment as you make edits, providing your own insights. People invited can subscribe to see day-to-day changes.

How do you learn it?

Sigh up for an account with the cloud or download it to your desktop. Note, that in order to download, your computer must have the most updated computer settings– Mountain Lion+. I unfortunately had Snow Leopard (or 10.6) so couldn’t download it.

Once you have done that, you can download data through files/servers Tableau connects natively. That includes excel files, Google Analytic, HP Vertica and a bunch of other tools. Also, you can connect to live data (meaning a continuous stream) or can extract (pulling only the data set once, dating the day you pulled it). Cleaning the data is very reminiscent to Google Refine/Excel, hence the earlier comparison. Though I must say that, Tableau seems more advanced, allowing consumers to do more with data sets visually.

I recommend watching the 20 minute tutorial provided by Tableau. It is not as overwhelming as the homepage 5 minute video, especially considering our background with data analysis.

I would not consider the tool easy to use. If Google Refine and Excel are introductory data tools, then Tableau is definitely the intermediate tool. After awhile though it gets easier. But someone using it should definitely have a background in data analysis. Though I must say, the site supplies many, many tutorials for this very reason.

Tableau has a selection of tutorial options on their website, including How-To Videos and options to tune in for Live Training.  Lynda.com has some basic introductory videos that are also helpful for an overview, in addition to a plethora of Tableau tool tutorial videos on Youtube. If you need to talk to a real human, it may cost you a little bit of money but Tableau also has support services online or over the phone.

How long has the tool been around? Who authored it?

The Tableau software founders are Pat Hanrahan, Chris Stolte and Christian Chabot. Founded in January of 2003, the American Data Visualization software company is headquartered in Seattle, Washington.

Tableau software was founded in 2003 by Stanford students and a professor. Tableau Public is six years old. Founded by Christian Chabot, CEO and co-founder; Chris Stolte, CDO and co-founder; Pat Hanrahan, Chief Scientist and co-founder.

Do you think it’ll be around in 5 years?

Tableau software is currently traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Given this mark of stability it can be assumed the company will still be around in 5 years.

Tableau has been around for a long time, and it looks like it will continue to exist for a long time. Tableau visualizations can be downloaded as PDFs or images, but to include their interactive qualities, the user must download them as a Tableau workbook, which could presumably be deleted if the company doesn’t last. With that said, Tableau continues to be used by top media companies and networks that have invested their work with the faith that Tableau isn’t tanking anytime soon.

And then there’s this, from PR Newswire:

“On the heels of its 2014 earnings announcement, Tableau shared figures on the record growth of its business analytics products. After five years of exponential growth, the company reached $913 million in lifetime revenue – $413 million of which was generated in 2014. With that achievement, Tableau has become one of the fastest growing companies in the fifty-year history of business analytics software.”

Still, if you’re scared, there’s always the option to save Tableau visualizations as a PDF or an image.

Recommendation

I would recommend this to someone who loves data analytics. It’s good for finance and banking it seems, because all the filters seemed formatted with that mindset. The filtering options allow for some really insightful business questions, be it profit trends, etc.

Though, for the purpose of this class, I would say that Tableau can hold tons and tons of data sets/ visualizations into one project. So if your project seems to go in that direction and you’re concerned about managing them– come here. Also it’s pretty awesome at color coordinating.

Tableau is an easy-to-use, simple and robust program that comes with a slew of resources to help users with any possible problems. I recommend it to anyone, particularly those who are looking for a data visualization tool that isn’t too bogged-down with text or requires a deep knowledge of coding or data analytics. One really cool new tool: Tableau’s Story Points launched last year, allowing users to create a narrative or to offer analysis as they walk readers through sequential presentations from a specific dataset.

PROS: 

  • Very easy to use, with a drag-and-drop interface
  • Allows multiple worksheets
  • Easy to customize and play around with different visualizations
  • Ability to add different calculations, like subtotals and totals

CONS: 

  • All your data are belong to Tableau Public (everything is public)
  • Can only save to the web on Tableau Public
  • Messy data is harder to spot
  • Mapping is kind of limited, only likes GPS coordinates/locations

Examples of data stories that used this tool

Contributors to this Review

Amanda Gomez
Victoria Bedford (@Tori_Bedford)
Madison Noteware

 


ibm-many-eyes_photo

Many Eyes (NOT RECOMMENDED)

September 20, 2015

Many Eyes was an online data analysis and visualizing platform. It is now outdated and not maintained so we do not recommend using it. Users have the ability to upload data online or use an existing data set and choose from a list of various visualizations to tell their story. Visualizations include maps, word clouds and charts amongst others. Many Eyes, an IBM product, does not require users to download the platform, but requires that they sign up.

Media Type: Data analysis & visualization
Skill level: Medium
Cost: Varies
Open-source:  No
Visit:  Many Eyes

Screenshots

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What is the tool designed to do? Who is it designed for?

ManyEyes is an online platform for creating basic data visualizations. It’s free and run by IBM. You can make maps, pie charts, scatter plots and more. It’s useful for uploading data sets or creating these basic visualizations. Basically, it’s supposed to make creating a visualization easier.

It should be noted that the website is going through a transition which may have resulted in a lot of the problems that were faced. The site kept freezing and at times certain buttons did not work. There was a message explaining the transition displayed at the top of each page.

How do you learn it?

How to Make an Account

Making an account is super easy. All you need is to make a username, password and fill in your email (which is needed to verify the account). There is no need to link your account to any social media site.

It seems that ManyEyes has gone through several transitions and for this reason I couldn’t find an up-to-date tutorial. Even if I did, it may become obsolete once the newest transition occurs. There doesn’t seem to be any tutorials at all on Lynda.com, but there were a few old videos from 2010-2013 on Youtube. Examples of these older tutorials are linked here (2013) and here(2011).

It is unclear what this transition will change for the website at this time. I reached out to the team for more information, but have not heard back yet.

Creating a Visualization

Uploading data is not the easiest. You can either select all and copy a spreadsheet and paste it in the upload box or paste free flowing data separated by commas. There doesn’t seem to be a simple way to just upload the data from a file.

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Next, you can choose from an array of visualizations. Unfortunately, probably due to the transition, I was unable to choose or share a visualization. It seems like once you upload your data, you can choose from an array of visualizations and then share the visualization set you make. You can embed the visualization wherever you want, including blogs and social media.

Viewing other Data Sets and Visualizations

You should be able to view other user’s uploaded data sets, but currently the “loading” messages never loaded. Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 8.39.00 PM

You can view other visualizations on the site by clicking on “Visualizations”. This currently works. Once you click on one you’re interested in, it will open in a new box on top of the website (not a new tab). On my 13″ macbook, I was unable to view the whole data visualization without zooming out.

I do like that you can change the way you see the data. For instance, in the “Number of Obese People Per US State 2012″ visualization, I can change the “Size” from “# of Obese People per State” to “%”.

There are also “Related Visualizations” and “Related Datasets” at the bottom of each.

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Recommendation

I had a lot of difficulty using the site and while it may be a lot better after the transition, I cannot at this point recommend it. I think a user should be able to upload a file of data. On top of that, most of the site did not work for me. I was unable to create a visualization and the page kept freezing. Pages that showed featured data sets did not load. The “latest” and “popular” data sets were exactly the same which I do not think could be accurate.

Examples of data stories that used this tool

  • Ariana Marini
  • Madison Noteware

 


  • wordle_photo2
  • Travel in Boston

Wordle

September 20, 2014

Wordle is a text visualizing tool, it helps create word clouds from text. It is a simple way to tell a story based on the common use of words within a body of text. This tool can visualize the data and highlight unique themes through words.

Media Type/s: Text visualization tool
Skill level: Very easy
Cost: Free, no login required.
Open-source: No
Visit: Visit Wordle

Screenshots

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What is the tool designed to do? Who is it designed for?

This tool creates word clouds based on a text you provide. The cloud sorts out all of the words from the text based on their prominence. The words that are more frequently used appear bigger in the word cloud and you can edit the word cloud by changing the color font and shape of the text. When finished, these images are available for printing and sharing online.

This would be a good tool for introducing a text story. It would give the reader the idea of importance of the story based on words most frequently used. The font can also be an indicator of the mood of the story since there are soft and harsher fonts to do so. Overall wordle can embellish a piece with a visual aid to subtly outline a story.

How do you learn it?

One necessary component to using this program is that you must have java installed onto your computer. This is also a free program that downloads within seconds. To use this program, you first go onto wordle.net and click on the link that says “create own.” When that opens, a box appears where you can copy and paste any text. Then by clicking go, your wordles are created. Here is a link to an online tutorial that shows you step by step how to use this program. There is an option to randomize the word cloud until you find a layout that you like. If you can not find one that works, there are also options to manually format it by changing color, font and text. Your word cloud can be created by not only copying text from a word document, but also the text can be taken from websites as well by as by copying articles online and then pasting them into the wordle program.

This program is free and easy to use. There are no skills necessary to become proficient in wordle. The basis of this program is just copying and pasting text. Once your text is created into a word cloud, many of the options to edit it are simple and self explanatory.

Also, it has a FQA options on website. If you have any problems when using Wordle, you can find the solution in most cases.  In the Advanced option, you can easily manage your word cloud when typing the text. For example, you can type the words with the hex colors and then it will show in the final word cloud.

 

How long has the tool been around? Who authored it?

Wordle was created by Jonathan Feinberg (and copyrighted in 2014).

Do you think it’ll be around in 5 years?

Wordle is a tool that performs a simple task. It not likely to grow but it has a steady stream of users (reportedly 14,000 users/day), so it is likely to still be around in 5 years.

Recommendation

I would recommend this tool. It is easy and does not take a lot of time to create a word cloud. It is completely free and your word cloud can be exported anywhere. It is a good tool for someone looking to convey the significance of specific words within an article.

And it is just a website, you don’t need to download any software except for the Java. It will save the computer’s memory and convenient for user.

However, this tool isn’t perfect. The export part need to be improved. The only way to save my word cloud as a picture is the screen shot. If it can be save as a picture directly, it will be better. Also, I think if it can import the excel files to make the word cloud, it will be more helpful and convenient.

Examples of data stories that used this tool

Contributors to this Review

  • Cassandra Henkenius
  • Madison Noteware
  • Yang Zhou

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Piktochart

September 20, 2014

Piktochart is an easy infographic design app that requires very little effort to produce beautiful, high quality graphics. It is a web-based infographic software which allows users to create professional-grade interactive infographics.

Media Type/s: Infographics, reports, posters, presentations

Skills: Easy if you follow some tutorials

Cost: Free (Limited templates), Lite ($15/month $150/annual) (Standard use), Pro ($29/month 290/annual) (Unlimited). They also have Non-Profit and Education packages.

Open Source: Yes

Recommended: Yes

Visit: Piktochart

Screenshots

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Piktochart Poster

Piktochart Poster

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What is the tool designed to do? Who is it designed for? 

Piktochart is designed for creating easy understandable interpretation of data. It is powerful to visualize the giant data using pictures and icons. It’s a very useful tool to do presentations, and it is focused on empowering users to create infographics that are web-publisher ready, and able to stand alone as a piece of rich, multimedia content.  Piktochart offers four categories of templates: infographics, posters, presentations, and reports. The current vision of Piktochart is allowing users to create infographics which are readable by search engines, as well as to include multiple interactive elements—embedded video, and multiple clickable items.

This tool is used for those who present the searching results, including a lot of number which is hard to explain to the audiences or those who need simplistic infographic to assist their explanation of a phenomenon.

How do you learn it?

You can sign in with your Google or Facebook account to easily access the free version of Piktochart. Once you sign in you can choose from four types of formats: infographic, report, poster or presentation. You can then choose from a number of pre-existing themes or create your own. If you upgrade to the Lite membership, you receive access to all of the templates and more space to upload images. With this membership, however, users can only download in JPG and PNG format, and also still have the Piktochart watermark on their creations. In order to get rid of the watermark, one must upgrade to the Pro membership, which also allows your charts to be downloadable in PDF format, and more privacy options. Once editing the theme, it is highly customizable, so can insert your own icons and photos as well as change the color scheme.

There is a brief tutorial on Youtube, How to use Piktocchart or on Lynda, Creating Infographics. They also have an extensive FAQ section that gives many useful resources and tutorials. The program is also very interactive, as when you open your first template, they provide directions and instructions as to where certain icons are and what they do.

Each format has differing functions:

  • Infographic - A longform infographic that looks great embedded onto blogs and websites.
  • Report - Meant to be used in a professional setting to spice up charts and tables.
  • Poster - Essentially a small poster meant to send one concise message.
  • Presentation - Format comparable to a PowerPoint.

How long has the tool been around? Who authored it?

In July 2011, graphic designers, Ai Ching and Andrea founded “Yet Another Studio,” which was a graphic design studio in Penang, Malaysia. They launched their first program, Piktochart, in January 2012. Starting with only four employees working from a warehouse, the company has now blossomed into a 40-member company serving 3 million users. In December 2012, Piktochart received a $140,000 grant from the Malaysian government’s Cradle Fund, as well as announcing that it had raised seed funding from a number of investors.

Do you think it’ll be around in 5 years?

If the company continues to update the software, I think that Piktochart will be around in 5 years. This program really allows all people to use it, and is not restricted to users only with technological knowledge. The company will definitely need to keep up with the times and add some new templates and abilities in order to ensure that it will be around in the future.

Piktochart does seem to be making attempts to stay up-to-date with currents trends, making their infographics more interactive– for instance, it is now possible to import SurveyMonkey results into reports. It is also a quick and easy way for people to create without using programs like InDesign, which require a lot more expertise and experience.

Their registered user’s number is increasing exponentially from 1.92 million last year to 5 million this April. If it continues its exploration of new functions and user-friendly platform, it will keeps a staggering rise in its user’s number.

Recommendation

Piktochart is an easy and straightforward tool for creating colorful, sleek, and visually appealing data-presentations. While it is definitely easier to use if you have prior experience in graphic design using programs such as Photoshop or InDesign, it is not too hard to learn for someone inexperienced. For someone looking to quickly create a professional looking infographic or presentation, Piktochart is a great program, especially considering how much is available on the free version.

Examples of data stories that used this tool

Contributors to this Review

  • Liangzi Xu
  • Yining Chen (@elynchen11)
  • Gina Brazão
  • Elise Chen
  • Antonia DePace

 


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Quartz Chartbuilder

September 20, 2014

Quartz Chart Builder is a simple browser based chart creator. Users input data into the site and are able to customize their charts through a number of options available to them. Simple and provides the capability to export the chart.

Content Details: Manual input of datasets
Media Type: Chart creator
Skill level: Very easy (harder if adapting via Github download)
Cost: Free
Open-source: No
Recommended: Yes (for simple plots)
Visit:  Chartbuilder github

Screenshots

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What is the tool designed to do? Who is it for?

It is an open-source charting application that is meant to allow users to simply paste their data (in csv form) into Chartbuilder and export it. It is meant for users who want to generate polished graphs quickly. Quartz has a minimalist site design, which carries over into the aesthetics of its Chartbuilder tool.

Chartbuilder is meant to lower the barrier of entry for non-technical professionals to create their own charts rather than outsourcing to a graphics generating team. Chartbuilder can be used offline by downloading the source code from GitHub– thus making Charbuilder built for making charts on the go.

Chartbuilder uses D4 as its default charting framework. Chartbuilder 2.0 is the user interface for Quartz’ atlas. The chart creation software within Chartbuilder is named Gneisschart.

*Note in March 2016: the easy Charbuilder website seems to be frozen for users.

How do you learn it?

The site is pretty self explanatory to use. It walks you through 7 steps by scrolling through the prompts on the right of the page. While adjusting the settings on the right your visual is shown making the changes on the left.

Below are the 7 preset steps:

  1. Select chart type (either XY Chart or Chart grid)
  2. Input your data
  3. Set Series options
  4. Configure the Primary axis
  5. Set the frequency and formatting of the bottom axis
  6. Set title, source, credit and size
  7. Export your chart (download image or SVG)

How long has the tool been around? Who authored it?

Quartz launched Atlas (the tool used by Chartbuilder2.0) June 23, 2015. However, Chartbuilder has been around since

Do you think it will be around in 5 years?

Yes. Chartbuilder is used by numerous publishers including NPR, The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, The New Yorker and others.

Recommendation

I wouldn’t recommend the Quartz Chatbuilder right now because it’s easiest interface is currently frozen to users. Those who wish to download the more complicated github version might have better luck, but that format is too complicated to use when there are easier tools elsewhere. Once Quartz fixes the Chartbuilder, then this tool will be more useful for simple charts.

Examples of data stories that used this tool

  • Chart of Apple’s stock prices since May: AAPL-stock-price-Open_chartbuilder
  • chartbuilder-example-5
  • Facebook is worth more than Walmart: CIHSjk3WgAAHcI5

Contributors to this review

  • Madison Noteware
  • Lily Rugo

timemapper_photo

TimeMapper

September 20, 2014

TimeMapper allows users to quickly create timelines with map, video and image components. This interesting data visualization resource is a captivating way to provide historical and geographical context for a story.

Using TimeMapper is easy. First, the user has to organize the content in a Google spreadsheet, according to this template. Once the spreadsheet link is connected to TimeMapper, the app will do the rest.

Content Details: Information needs be organized and hosted on a Google spreadsheet
Media Type/s: Timemap (timeline and map combined), map and timeline
Skill level: Easy
Cost: Free
Open-source: Yes
Recommended: Yes
Visit:  TimeMapper

Screenshots

Medieval philosophers timemap

What is this tool designed to do? Who is it for?

This tool is designed to create dynamic maps, timelines and timemaps, a form of visualization that integrates both. Timemaps can also include images, videos and links. All the data must be organized in a Google spreadsheet that is later connected to TimeMapper. On the spreadsheet, each row will represent one item in the timeline and a corresponding pin in the map. Therefore, the rows on the spreadsheet must be filled with all the information associated with that item (title, start date, end date, video or image URL, links, latitude and longitude, etc.).

In order to use TimeMapper, the only skill required is knowing how to basically organize data on a spreadsheet. Since it’s based on a common format of organizing data, TimeMapper is very easy to use. TimeMapper could be used by reporters to investigate and display the historical dimension of a story; by business people that need to display the history of a product or company; or by anyone who wants to quickly visualize a process that happens over time.

TimeMapper visualizations can be exported as:

  • an iframe code, that can be embedded in various websites.
  • a tweet, with the link to the visualization hosted on TimeMapper website.

The only downside of TimeMapper is that the timemaps are not customizable. The user cannot change fonts, colors, headers, and other visual elements and the standard visualization is not very attractive. This is a problem if the outlet where the timemap will be published follows a design styleguide or if the user wants to use any deisgn elements to convey more information (color coding, font size, font style, etc.).

How do you learn it?

Building a timemap on TimeMapper requires 3 basic steps:

  1. Create a Spreadsheet using Google Spreadsheet
    Fill in the rows and columns following this TimeMapper template.
  2. Connect and Customize
    Follow the instructions to connect the spreadsheet to TimeMapper on the tool’s FAQ page.
  3. Publish, Embed and Share

Watch the minute tutorial or visit the site’s FAQ page.

How long has the tool been around? Who authored it?

TimeMapper was created by Open Knowledge Foundation Labs in 2007. It is built using other open source libraries such as TimelineJS, ReclineJS, Backbone, Leaflet & OpenStreetMap.

TimeMapper is an open source tool; its Github page can be found here.

Do you think it will be around in 5 years?

Yes, with TimeMapper, professionals can produce timelines, maps and timemaps in a very simple and easy way. These types of visualizations are common and constantly required in professional settings, so I believe TimeMapper will keep having demand in the next few years. TimeMapper could become obsolete, however, if developers create similar tools that are as easy to use and allow users to customize the visualizations.

In addition, the data probably will not be lost over time, since it is stored in Google spreadsheets, which will likely be around in the next five years.

Recommendation

Yes, TimeMapper is very easy to use, which makes it a simple, accessible and useful tool. I would recommend TimeMapper for anyone who wishes to visualize a process that happens over time.

The tool is particularly useful for journalists. If they’re investigating an election, a lawsuit or a person’s trajectory, it would be helpful to organize and visualize the key dates on that process, as well as associate location, images, videos and links with each of these landmarks. Seeing key events on a map also helps identifying geographical trends and, therefore, helps the investigation. I would certainly recommend that journalists use it as an investigation tool.

However, TimeMapper does not allow the user to edit and customize the visualization, which, by default, is not visually attractive. Depending on the article and the media organization, perhaps TimeMapper shouldn’t be used in the final publication of the story. On the other hand, if the media organization doesn’t have any design requirements for that story, TimeMapper should be used both as an investigation tool and as a visual element in the final story.

Examples

Contributors

  • Giulia Afiune
  • Madison Noteware
  • Anne Carroll

Dipity_photo

Dipity

September 20, 2014

Dipity allows users to create interactive timelines. Timelines can include tests, video, audio, links and content from Social Media sites.  Users are encouraged to create timelines related to different genres including historical, satire, business and more.

Content details: Allows media content from Social Media sites.
Media Type/s: Timelines
Skill level: Easy
Cost: Free (for three timelines, premium plans available)
Open-source: No
Recommended: Yes
Visit:  Dipity

Screenshots

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What is it designed to do? Who is it designed for?

Dipity is meant to chronicle social media via timelines. These timelines can integrate video, audio, images, links, social media, location and timestamps.

Dipity is designed to be used anyone who has access to the website. Its users range from journalists and financial institutions to students and non-profits. A Dipity multimedia timeline can visually attract more internet traffic to a pre-existing site.

Dipity also serves as a form of social media. After creating a profile, you can follow and become friends with others.

How do you learn it?

Read the Dipity Tutorial PDF here or watch one of the tutorial videos.

How long has it been around? Who authored it?

Dipity uses timelines powered by AJAX. Dipity launched in 2008. It was founded by Derek Dukes and Zack Steinkamp in 2007. It is currently a 10 person company based out of San Francisco.

Do you think it will be around in 5 years?

It does not seem to have updated particularly recently (as of 2011). It however is still a free option to create simple timelines that are visually simple.

Recommendation

It is useful for creating a timeline. It can be a compelling tool to add a visual to a larger story.

Examples of Data Stories that used this tool

Contributors to this review

  • Madison Noteware

timetoast_photo

TimeToast

September 20, 2014

TimeToast helps users to create interactive timelines about various topics using both images and text. The timelines are shared on the TimeToast page allowing for an archive of timelines on the site.

Content details: Dates and images
Media Type/s: Timelines
Skill level: Very Easy
Cost: Public membership: free
Basic membership: $5.99/month
Pro membership: $8.99/month
Open-source: No
Recommended: Yes
Visit:  TimeToast

Screenshots

timetoast-logo-20ae16ba898204edb44ac3bc749b1e47 Screen Shot 2015-07-16 at 10.40.16 AM

What is this tool designed to do? Who is designed for?

Timetoast is a online tool to create interactive timelines. It is designed for all users to easily make timelines by simply adding events and timespans, which are events occurring over a period of time. Events/ timespans include titles, descriptions, photos and the date of the event.

The finished product can either be viewed in list form or as a scrollable timeline. Timetoast timelines are easily shared: users can embed timelines and print them with the click of a button.

Timetoast allows users to browse publicly posted timelines. The timelines are categorized into Music, Film, Science & Technology, Business, Personal & History to name a few.

Timetoast offers multiple memberships that give you different access to the site. As a non-paying user you can publish timelines publicly. With either the basic or pro memberships, users can collaborate with other users and have more control over the privacy of their Timetoast creations.

Timetoast has recently expanded to a mobile platform. So users can begin to edit and create their timelines from their phones.

How do you learn it?

Timetoast is pretty intuitive to learn. Watch the PBS tutorial here or read the Timetoast timeline on Creating a Timeline. Other questions can be answered on the FAQ page or

How long has the tool been around? Who authored it?

Timetoast was created by CEO Daniel Todd. Timetoast timelines was released publicly in April 2008. The company is based out of London.

Do you think it will be around in 5 years?

Yes. Timetoast is a well-established timeline creating tool. It has been featured in articles for PC Magazine, Lifehacker, The New York Times, Mashable to name a few publications. Timetoast is continuously being updated– the most recent post on its blog comments on its progression towards using HTML5 instead of Ruby rails (the post was published March 2015). Another update Timetoast is making is creating a mobile platform to edit and create timelines on the go.

Recommendation

Yes. If you want to quickly create a basic interactive timeline. Timetoast is a good platform for creating a clean and easily interactive timeline.

Examples of data stories that used this tool

Contributors to this review

  • Madison Noteware

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ZeeMaps

October 20, 2014

ZeeMaps easily creates interactive maps. It offers multiple options for users to display information on a map in an interactive manner. The maps also offer a crowdsourcing component that allows users to crowd source information onto the map. This tool would be best used to offer context to a story. ZeeMaps provides a special program for journalists.

Content Details:Geographic information
Media Type/s:
Skills: Easy
Cost: Free *premium packages available
Open-Source: No
Recommended: Yes
Visit: ZeeMaps.

Screenshots

What is this tool designed to do? Who is designed for?

ZeeMaps is designed to help users generate and publish interactive maps. ZeeMaps aims to provide a simple mechanism to create customized maps minimizing your effort. Interactive maps can be useful for journalists reporting on location-based stories such as rioting, protests and severe weather.

ZeeMaps makes it easy to upload bulky data from Excel, Google Spreadsheets, CSV, KML or Geo RSS feeds to create an dynamic map. You can map places you’ve visited, addresses of your customers, sales, friends or relatives.

Key features of ZeeMaps include:

  • Sign up not required
  • Add searchable custom fields
  • Map Images in PDF or PNG
  • Add multimedia to your markers
  • Customize icons
  • Color Regions to highlight regions
  • 31 Marker Group and subgroups
  • Entry List- clickable list of entries beside your map
  • Crowd Source marker additions to restrict marker groups
  • Private mapping for confidential data
  • GeoSearch
  • Edit Grids

How do you learn it?

ZeeMaps encourages users to explore the gallery to see the varied applications and capabilities of ZeeMaps that otherwise may not be obvious.

Read the ZeeMaps blog to read about new mapping techniques.

How long has the tool been around? Who authored it?

ZeeMaps is authored by Zee Source, based out of Cupertino, CA. ZeeMaps uses Google Maps to display its maps, however the two are not related. Zee Maps has been copywritten since 2005.

Do you think it will be around in 5 years?

Yes. ZeeMaps is used by users daily to create thousands of maps. ZeeMaps encourages feedback, especially constructive criticism that could better the site.

Recommendation

Examples of data stories that used this tool

  • Maps for journalists: Wired’s 3G performance study & Craft beer in Milwaukee story & map

Contributors to this review

  • Madison Noteware

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Import.io

October 20, 2014

Import.io is a data capturing tool that allows users to extract data into a table or an API. Coding is not required to extract large quantities of textual or image data from sites. Users indicate which data they would like to extract, they can indicate the data over a number of pages and then run the extractor, within a short amount of time the user will have access to the data in a table. The tool is free to use however a download and sign up is required. It is available for all of Windows, Macs and Linux users.

Content Details: Image and text data on sites.
Media Type/s: Data Extraction
Skills: Easy
Cost: Free
OpenSource: No
Recommended:
Visit: Import.io

What is this tool designed to do? Who is designed for?

Import.io is a web platform that turns web content into data without needing a plug in or downloading anything. By clicking on a few examples of the data you would like to pull, learning algorithms are used to extract the data from the rest of the site.

Import.io can customize its data delivery method to meet your needs, ranging from emailing to storing directly to a data warehouse.

The site is designed for a large scope of customers, “ranging from an owner/operator of a yoga studio, all the way up to a national bank. It’s a broad market, and we think it’s an addressable market.”

How do you learn it?

Watch this tutorial that gets you started in under a minute! For a step-by-step guide follow the article published by interhacktives.

To create a crawler– a tool that extracts data from entire website read the tutorial from import.io itself.

How long has the tool been around? Who authored it?

Import.io enterprise is based out San Francisco, CA & London, UK. The company was founded in 2012.

Do you think it will be around in 5 years?

Import.io is highly used: it collects over 10 million records daily. Since its founding in 2012, Import.io has extracted 100 billion records from over 300,000 sites. The company is backed by Wellington Partners, AME Cloud Ventures & Open Ocean Capital. It is used by reputable companies such as the Wall Street Journal, INC, Tech Crunch & The Telegraph.

Import.io is a widely acclaimed extraction source. It has been received numerous awards including named Best Startup by O’Reilly Strata Santa Clara (2013) , GigaOM and Web Summit.

Contributors to this review

  • Madison Noteware

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 1.17.41 PM

Open Refine

October 20, 2014

*Note Google stopped backing Google Refine in 2013 to focus its efforts on Refine

Google’s Open Refine cleans up messy data. By placing the data into a table, users are able to clean up their data with a number of functionalities provided by Open Refine. This tool works well with data already captured and needs to be cleaned in order to use in a story or a data visualization.

Content Details: Messy data
Media type/s: Data cleaning
Skills: Medium
Cost: Free
Open-Source: No
Recommended: Yes
Visit: Open Refine

What is this tool designed to do? Who is designed for?

Google Open Refine cleans and transforms messy data. Unlike a spreadsheet, OpenRefine transforms the data rather than keeping equations in cells.

The software is designed to clean, transform, parse or add to the data.

It can import from the following formats: TSV, CSV, Text in columns or separators, XML, RDF, JSON, Google Spreadsheets or Google Fusion Tables.

OpenRefine can export the transformed data into TSV, CSV, Microsoft Excel, HTML table or a templating exporter.

How do you learn it?

For a formal tutorial on using Open Refine, you can purchase the Using OpenRefine book here.

The intro video for OpenRefine can help with getting started with the tool.

How long has the tool been around? Who authored it?

Google authored the tool. It was initially released November 2010. Its stable release was in December 2011.

OpenRefine began at Freebase Gridworks developed by Metaweb and was available as open source in 2010. Google acquired Metaweb 6 months later and released the Google Refine 2.0 version. In October 2012 the original author, David Huynh, announced Google would stop its support of Google Refine. Since 2012, the codebase has transitioned to become an open source project known as OpenRefine.

Do you think it will be around in 5 years?

It will probably still exist as an open source tool in the next 5 years.

Contributors to this review

  • Madison Noteware

 

 


Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 1.28.05 PM

Vojo.co

October 20, 2014

Vojo is a mobile based platform created to give a voice to the community. People can submit stories via SMS, MMS and calls (does not require a smartphone). It groups submissions by theme to create a story. These stories are published on the Vojo platform.

Media Type/s: Messages from mobile phones 
Skills: Easy
Cost: Free
Open Source: Yes
Recommended: Yes
Visit: Vojo.co

Screenshots

Screen Shot 2015-07-16 at 11.25.29 AM

What is this tool designed to do? Who is designed for?

Call or text Vojo at 617-286-5071 to submit your entry to a story. Vojo collects users submissions and compiles them into stories. Visit the vojo page to find the phone number to use for the story you want to which you would like to contribute.

Vojo is designed to allow anyone to publish their story via the internet without needing to connect. Vojo uses calls, texts and photos sent into stitch together a better picture of an emerging story. Vojo attempts to eliminate reporter bias by gathering information from the source.

Each story has its own page on the site. Within each story there are pages to learn about the story, submit, browse and view a map of the submissions related to the story.

How do you learn it?

By calling or texting the vojo number your content is published to the vojo site. Vojo doesn’t require a smartphone, so it lowers the barrier of entry for reporting.

To get started read these three steps:

Screen Shot 2015-07-16 at 11.45.56 AM

  1. Post your story: Call (617) 286-5071 and follow the instructions to report your audio story
  2. Create a username: after posting you will receive a SMS message with a default username/password combination. Change your username & password by logging on or sending a SMS to vojo.co with your preferred name
  3. Create and customize your own group (optional)

Beyond submitting reports via SMS, voice and MMS, Vojo allows users to tag, geotag, customize groups and make group messaging blasts. More of the Vojo uses can be found in its manual.

How long has the tool been around? Who authored it?

The MIT Center for Civic Media authored Vojo.co. The platform is powered by Voz Mob, Drupal and Mirabot Technology Cooperative.

Do you think it will be around in 5 years?

Unsure. Vojo.co is still in its beta stage.

Recommendation

This is a great tool to reach out to a community of people who have a story to tell, but not necessarily the means.

Examples of data stories that used this tool

Contributors to this review

  • Madison Noteware

 


Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 10.53.22 PM

Storify

October 21, 2014

Storify is a user friendly platform for multimedia storytelling. It is great for aggregating conversation about an event or topic from various social media sources. From Tweets, Facebook updates, pictures, and other social media sites, Storify is a fun way to show how a story is developing over social media.

Skill Level: Easy
Cost: Free
Open Source: Yes
Recommended: Yes
Visit: Storify

Screenshots from my Storify

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What is the tool designed to do? Who is it designed for?

Storify is designed for users who want to search multiple social network sites, create stories using social media and use text. Storify can be an easy tool for bloggers and journalists who want a nontraditional way to use text, documents, videos and images. It works by first creating an account (under “Create a Story”) then there will be a template that shows you what it will look like once you find the photos and posts you want and put them into the draft space. To the right, you can search multiple social networking sites at once by clicking on the ones you want and then putting keywords about your story into the search bar.

“Storify helps make sense of what people post on social media. Our users curate the most important voices and turn them into stories.” – Storify

Storify allows users to grab drag-and-drop objects from the web and embed them into new stories while maintaining the functionality of the object (for example, a tweet can be favorited or retweeted, Youtube video can be played, etc.) Storify is great for trend storeis or stories when you want to curate a mass of opinions taken from, say, Twitter.

Storify also allows you to search for content to include in your post.

How do you learn it?

Storify is super easy to learn. All you have to do is just drag and drop objects into your post!

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 10.48.34 AM

First create an account on Storify using a new username or through Facebook and Twitter. Click the “Create a Story” on the top right hand corner to begin a new document. On the right hand side of the document are social media icons where you can type in your username and it will list the latest Tweets and updates.

This article is great for providing how-tos for several different kinds of stories you can tell with Storify including curating responses to an event, grabbing posts based on a topic, creating a timeline of an event — and then notifying the people included in your post that they are part of the conversation.

How long has the tool been around? Who authored it?

Storify has been around since 2010 and was founded by Xavier Damman and Burt Herman in San Francisco. 

Do you think it’ll be around in 5 years?

Storify should be around in I think it will be around in 5 years because we live in a digital world now, we are locked into our social media, and our papers online. Telling these stories and using all different kinds of media to help support the story only makes this website better and hopefully it’ll grow to be an even bigger website. These types of free and easy websites that allow you access to creating different types of story boards are in high demand. As long as social media is relevant, sites like this that pool all the posts together will be.

Recommendation

I highly recommend Storify for anyone who wants a quick and easy way to post a story using social media. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who is covering an event of some sort or is organizing responses on a specific topic.

I would recommend it, however, I think the site needs to work on updating the information that is available. A lot of the posts I found were from weeks ago and I was limited to only about 20 recent posts.

Examples of data stories that used this tool

Mindy McAdams teaching data journalism 

School of data journalism

Contributors to this Review

Christina Jedra
Madison Noteware
Jessica Kasparian @JKasparian10
Marcelle Hutchins @Hutchinsmade

Melanie Escobar

 


Excel

April 2, 2015

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.

Media Type/s: Spreadsheets, charts
Skills: Easy if you follow some tutorials
Cost: ~$115 for Microsoft Office 2011 for the Mac
Open Source: No
Recommended: Yes
Visit: Excel

Screenshots

ExcelExcel

What is the tool designed to do? Who is it designed for?

Excel is designed to work with tables – rows and columns – of data. It can work with data sets that are very large (at least in the hundreds of thousands of rows). You can sort and filter those rows easily. You can easily sort and format your data, write formulas for aggregating your data, and use Pivot Tables to create custom views and reports on the data. PivotTables set Excel apart from other WYSIWIG tools – they are extremely easy to use once you are up to speed and give you quick insight into large data sets, including where you might need to clean up the data. Excel also has a number of fairly sophisticated charting features to create visualizations. If you don’t like how the visualizations look then you can always export the images and clean them up in Photoshop or Illustrator. Advanced users can write macro scripts or use Python to interface with Excel.

Excel is designed for many different end users from accountants to journalists. This is the possible down side of Excel – there are so many features and possible applications that it can occasionally seem overwhelming to get started.

How do you learn it?

Opening a file and messing around with it in Excel is super easy. To learn more advanced features like PivotTables, the videos at Lynda.com are great if you have access. Lynda.com also has very introductory videos that can give you an overview of the user interface. There are also plenty of free versions on YouTube. Microsoft’s site has a number of tutorials and short videos for specific tasks. And there is a whole online forum dedicated to answering Excel questions at MrExcel.com.

Our recommendation to get started is to open the program and use it as much as you and then seek out help for specific tasks that you need to accomplish in Excel.

How long has the tool been around? Who authored it?

Microsoft created and maintains Excel as part of its Office suite of tools (which also include Word and Powerpoint). Some version of Excel has been around since 1982. It was originally called Multiplan and designed as a spreadsheet competitor to Lotus 1-2-3.

Do you think it’ll be around in 5 years?

It is highly likely that Excel will be around in 5 years. Microsoft has maintained and upgraded it for many years and it has a significant worldwide userbase. Microsoft has been around for a long time. Competition for Excel is growing in the form of people using Google Sheets, which is free and now includes many of Excel’s features such as PivotTables. Excel is differentiating itself with new features like Power Queries and connecting to APIs right from the application. If you are worried about archival concerns then your best bet is to save your files as .CSV format so that they can be imported into a range of spreadsheet and visualization applications.

Recommendation

While not the sexiest tool in the box, Excel is a reliable powerhouse when it comes to working with data. You can explore, analyze and visualize data in Excel. It is easy to learn because there are many resources (and many free) online to learn. It’s worth taking the time to learn Excel.

Examples of data stories that used this tool

Contributors to this Review

 


Knight StoryMaps

April 13, 2015

Knight StoryMaps is a tool that easily allows you to create interactive, map based visualizations while incorporating other visuals from outside sources such as Twitter, YouTube and information from Wikipedia, online news articles and more.

Media Type/s: Map
Skills: Easy if you follow some basic instructions
Cost: Free
Open Source: Yes
Recommended: Yes
Visit: Knight StoryMaps

Screenshots


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What is the tool designed to do? Who is it designed for?

Knight StoryMaps is designed to help you, the user, tell stories on the web through map and location visualizations. StoryMaps has two distinct features, which are Gigapixel and SnapMap. Gigapixel allows the user to tell stories with photographs, art, historic maps, or any other image file that is uploaded. SnapMap allows the user to create a StoryMap, which places the users 20 most recent geo-tagged Instagram posts on a map visualization.

It’s designed for anyone really. Whether it is a journalist or someone who just wants to create a simple and fun map visualization. If you are a journalist or a journalism student then you can this tool to write your stories and publish them along with different multimedia such as images, videos, links etc. If you are a person interested in webdesign or would like to design something for yourself then it is a fun tool to use too. Using this tool, you can even make a visual project for a class with text, captions, descriptions, supporting images, videos and even locations and maps. It’s easy to add images and videos to your stories, and you can also pin to a specific location if you are trying to highlight it.

Knight Story Maps are great for adding pictures, videos and links to map based stories and presentations. It allows you to drop a pin on a specific part of a map, and with this pin you can add specific information prevalent to that geographic location. If a newsworthy event took place there, you can link to a specific online news story. Or perhaps there is a famous building in a certain area, you could link to a photo, or even a virtual tour from YouTube. It then allows you to move seamlessly from one pin to the next, especially helpful if the story has a set timeline. Along with these pins, there is space for a small blurb to explain the visualization. Snapmap, a part of Knight Maps, can quickly create a map using your 20 most recent geo-tagged Instagram photos, a cool feature to quickly and uniquely show the places you’ve been.

With Knight Story Maps, you can easily do profile stories, breaking news stories such as the Al Jazera article Journey to Nowhere, chronicling the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370. Because of the ability to incorporate geographical aspects with a wide variety of informative visualizations, there are a host of uses for these story maps. They work especially well with stories that span across a period of time or geographical location, because the maps allow you to go easily form pin to pin whether in order of time or variation of location.

How do you learn it?

It is easy to learn, as they give directions on how to work within the website. They also have a Help section if you get really confused. This section is very detailed and can answer multiple answers. If you have a question then you can also click on the link of support forum in the help section, where you can try and find your answer. The interface and web design is simple and easy to use, and creating and editing a map visualization isn’t difficult at all. It takes 5-10 minutes at most to learn how to navigate the site, but you don’t need any prior experience to jump right in. It is user friendly and you would not need to know a lot about web design to use this tool because all the columns and the instructions are clear. You can put in the information in the edit section and see how the page looks in the preview section.

When you first begin to create your map, you are given two options. The first is the standard location based story map, and the second called Gigapixle allows you to take a piece of art and use that as the background of the story, in place of the map. This extremely cool feature allows you to look at different aspects of one work of art or photograph and how all of those small details come together to create one single work. When creating a map based story, it allows you to choose your starting location and make slides for each pin that follows. The maps are also very detailed, down to the street names, not just the general area. Much like Microsoft PowerPoint each location is a slide, which can be added or removed as needed. These slides allow you to link to an outisde source of pictures or info, then write a brief description. You can then customize the slides’ color or background image to visually coincide with the story itself. Over all it’s a very straight forward, user friendly interface.

How long has the tool been around? Who authored it?

Northwestern University Knight Lab has run this tool since 2013.

Do you think it’ll be around in 5 years?

I think that it will be around in 5 years, as long as it continues making improvements and adding new features. As of now, it is easy to use and learn, but it’s rather simplistic in nature. If they keep it easy to use but make the necessary added improvements, I think it will be very popular in 5 years.

Recommendation

I recommend Knight StoryMaps as a interactive way to capture ones travels as digital storytelling. If you have a story that spans over various locations in any time period, this medium is just for you. This site is easy for all to acquire. It creates a sequence of presentation slides that animate the map from one location to the next including header text and explanatory text.

Knight StoryMaps is a great tool to really help visualize a story, which can really make a difference in the power and impact the story has. the ease of use is fantastic and the things you can create are honestly very cool. I like Knight Story Maps so much in fact that I plan on somehow incorporating it into my next project because most of my information is geographically based and adding in links other helpful information will make the final product both visually and mentally stimulating.

Examples of data stories that used this tool

Contributors to this Review

  • Evan Bedell
  • Taylor Kiss
  • Brihathi Cherukuri, brihathi_cherukuri@emerson.edu
  • Claire Parker, claire_parker@emerson.edu
  • Madison Notware, noteware@mit.edu

 


Google Earth

April 13, 2015

Google Earth is a tool that allows you to create and view 3 dimensional maps. You can also get directions and and create tours of places. It can be used for your business or personal use on the web, through your computer or via mobile devices.

Media Type/s: Virtual Globe Map
Skills: Easy for basic use tutorials for more advanced use
Cost: Both Goggle Earth and Google Earth Pro are free
Open Source: No
Recommended: Yes
Visit: Google Earth

Screenshots

 

Screen Shot 2015-04-10 at 8.46.38 AM Screen Shot 2015-04-10 at 8.48.17 AM Screen Shot 2015-04-10 at 8.49.38 AM

What is the tool designed to do? Who is it designed for?

Google Earth is designed to be a 3 dimensional map that viewers can navigate through for fun or specific tasks. You can use it for educational purposes or you can use it for personal use. It is designed for the average person just trying to figure out how to get somewhere all the way to the high tech business that is looking to find their demographic. It is designed for people who barely know how to use a computer all the way to people who know the ins and outs of computers. It is an application that can go as far as you want to take it.

How do you learn it?

If you are just using google maps to get directions or look at a map then just opening the application and messing around is really easy, but if you are looking to do more advance things with google Earth there are tutorials on the website. There are tutorials for the basics as well as the advanced methods such as 3d maps.

If you have any issues with the previous site mentioned, you can go to https://support.google.com/earth/answer/176576?hl=en.

How long has the tool been around? Who authored it?

Google Earth has been around since June 11, 2001 (so 13 years going on 14). It was authored by Google. It operates on Windows, OS X, Linux, Android, and iOS.

Do you think it’ll be around in 5 years?

I do believe Google Earth will be around in 5 years. The application continues to develop and grow further and further. Now that the Google Earth pro is free as well, the enhancement opportunities for Google Earth are incredible. As it continues to develop I wouldn’t be surprised at all if it one day takes over the mapping sites such as MapQuest and your basic map applications on your phone. The big thing that Google Earth has been trying to do is become more user friendly and accessible for the on the go users.  It has historically been an application that requires you to use it at home in order to do anything. Now you can use it on your mobile device, online, and your desktop.

Recommendation

Google Earth is definitely a tool I would recommend. It is free and very easy to use. The tool allows the average person to travel virtually anywhere in the world and interact through photos and information that might not otherwise be possible. It is completely accessible since it is available on your desktop, online and on mobile devices.

Examples of data stories that used this tool

Contributors to this Review

  • Robert Sturgis
  • Lyndi McIntyre

 


Visible Tweets

April 12, 2015

Visible Tweets  visualizes pubic tweets and is designed to display these tweets in public and private spaces.

Media Type/s: Launched online from a web browser
Skills: None really needed, super easy to navigate
Cost: None, it’s free!
Open Source: No
Recommended: Yes
Visit: Visible Tweets

Screenshots

1  2 3

Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 4.25.44 PM

What is the tool designed to do? Who is it designed for?

Visible Tweets is a tool designed to display tweets from any of Twitter’s search operators in public spaces. It can also be used to give presentations in private spaces. Visible Tweets  has a really simple layout and is easy to use. You can search tweets on this website by hashtag, places (geographic location), specific user, dates, exact phrases, and detailed language. Visible Tweets then displays what tweets they could find based off your search in three different types of visuaizations: letter by letter, rotating text, or a tag cloud. The background color also changes each time a new tweet is displayed and you can make the site “Full Screen” by clicking the arrow in the lower right hand side of the window. Visible Tweets only displays public tweets and fetches new tweets every five minutes. However, there is an option to e-mail the creator for customization including displaying tweets in real-time and font and color changes.

How do you learn it?

It’s a really simple tool, so you learn by playing around with the site yourself! You can try different keywords or phrases to search to limit or widen the types of tweets you want to display.

How long has the tool been around? Who authored it?

Visible Tweets was authored by Cameron Adams who calls himself The Man in Blue. Though its official launch date is not on the internet, his Twitter has been around since April 2009.

Do you think it’ll be around in 5 years?

Since Visible Tweets is very simple, does not have many options for customization, or any sort of wide need with the exception of an extremely niche target audience, I don’t think it will be around in 5 years. However, I do think better variations of it will exist that will provide users with a more options to customize and project what they really want. This all of course depends if Twitter is still relevant in 2020.

Recommendation

I would recommend this tool to anyone who wants to display tweets at a public event or is looking for a conversation starter in a classroom setting or event. For example, I’ve been to shows, concerts and events that encourage audience members to use certain hashtags so they can display tweets from the event. If someone was doing a presentation about a certain event or show Visible Tweets would be of use to them because they could type in the hashtag that would use and this site would stream the tweets for the person without them having to look them up. It would also be useful to someone who is giving a talk on hashtag activism and it’s impact/pervasiveness. In addition to this it could be useful for journalist to get a feel for how many people were tweeting about a subject and what specifically they were saying.

Examples of data stories that used this tool

There are not many data stories examples that use this tool because it mostly used personally for private or public presentation. However below are links to other reviews of the tool.

Contributors to this Review

  • Mehak Anwar (@mehak_anwar)
  • Jillian Meehan
  • Rebecca Hankins

 


datavisu.al

April 12, 2015

Datavisu.al is a simple, accessible tool to make data visualizations. It is in beta, so the site is still very new. This up-and-coming site has many features on the way, such as 3-D visuals, tree map, and table visuals. There is a free version and two premium plans that cost money. Currently, there are many templates to choose from and many ways to customize visualizations.

Media Type/s: Website, visual tool
Skills: Easy if you are familiar with graphic design and data
Cost: Free for basic plan, $14.99 for pro plan, $499.99 for corporate plan
Open Source: Yes
Recommended: Yes
Visit: Datavisu.al

Screenshots

community gallery

community gallery

Available Chart Types

Available Chart Types

Interface

Interface

What is the tool designed to do? Who is it designed for?

Datavisual is designed for data visualization production – such as bar graphs, line graphs, scatter plots, bubble plots, maps, and more. It is capable of working with large or small clean sets of data. Date sets must be uploaded in CSV format, or copied and pasted in to the provided table. Templates made by other users on the site can be saved and made public, so other users can access the design. Everything- right down to spacing between words, sizing, and axis increments- can be customized. Final visualizations can be exported as a PNG image. For the premium plans, deisgns can be exported as PDFs, web embed links, and SVGs.

According to their bio, it is “mainly focused at people in the design world with limited programming skills but a need to make beautiful charts and graphs.” There are no tutorials or step-by-step information because the program is very new. It is easy to use if you have previous design experience or are in the beginning stages of learning about data visualizations.

How do you learn it?

It is sort of a difficult tool to learn because it has no tutorials out about it currently.  I pretty much learned it by simply playing around on the site.  Once I learned it however, I found that it was relatively simple as long as the user has a background in Excel.  The tool does all of the work for the user.

My first visualization on Datavisu.al

My first visualization on Datavisu.al

How long has the tool been around? Who authored it?

It was created in 2013, so it is only two years old. Danne Woo is the founder and CEO, Peter Darche is CTO.

Do you think it’ll be around in 5 years?

It is very likely that Datavisual will be around in 5 years, since it still new and in the developmental stages. There is still a lot for room for improvements, upgrades, and new features that will likely expand their user base. They recently announced their partnership with the Daily News Innovation Lab. They will be helping Daily News tell stories in a more interesting, richer, interactive, engaging way by the incorporation of visualizations. I assume that the public will be seeing a lot coming from Datavisual with more inclusion in the media.

Recommendation

Overall, I recommend this tool to people still learning about data visualization and design. There are limited options since it is still developing, but to a new user that could work to their favor by not having an overwhelming amount of options. Also, there is still the option to get more features by paying for a premium plan. However, I think if a user does not have a background in Excel than this should not be the first data visualization tool a person uses.

Examples of data stories that used this tool

This is the only story I could find.

Contributors to this Review

  • Jessica Colarossi
  • Julia Wood (julia_wood@emerson.edu)

 


CartoDB

April 12, 2015

CartoDB is an open source tool that allows for the storage and visualization of geospatial data on the web. It is excellent for creating animated maps, GPS data maps and various other kinds of maps for professionals in any industry. Notable data features include the ability to create choropleth maps by combining data sets and creating animated/GPS maps.

Media Type/s: Maps
Skills: Very Easy if you follow some tutorials
Cost: Free for Basic, $29-$299 per month for premium
Open Source: Yes
Recommended: Yes
Visit: CartoDB

Screenshots

Screen Shot 2015-04-12 at 4.03.35 PM Screen Shot 2015-04-12 at 4.02.39 PM 

 What is the tool designed to do? Who is it designed for?

CartoDB is designed to work with tables of data and create maps from the data set. It can work with data sets of any size. Column names can be altered and be sorted and filtered in a descending and ascending format. When altering the map itself, you can add a variety of different visual filters and alter the appearance of different data points. Users can also easily add legends and directly edit the map’s CSS via a side toolbar. CartoDB is designed for professionals in a variety of industries ranging from architecture to real estate. Essentially, anyone who wants to create a interesting visual representation of their own (or open sourced) geographical data can use CartoDB.

Two features I love most are the Torque Map and Publish function; the former allow you to visualize geographical data overtime, the later simplified the process of sharing your work by automatically generating either URL, html code or java code according to which platform are you going to publish your map.

After finishing your map, you can go ahead and press the publish button to generate either URL, html or Java Script code depending on which platform are you going to share your work

After finishing your map, you can go ahead and press the publish button to generate either URL, html or Java Script code depending on which platform are you going to share your work

How do you learn it?

Finding or adding a data set to CartoDB and producing a visualization is very easy. The site offers tutorials that range from 3-10 minutes. Lynda.com also offers a variety of instructional videos. Our recommendation is to just open up the program and start messing around with it as much as possible. The interface is very user friendly and easy to learn.

You can also subscribe Cartodb’s offical youtube channel which provides a series of tutorial and webinars.

How long has the tool been around? Who authored it?

CartoDB was developed by Vizzuality and released for public use in September of 2011.

Do you think it’ll be around in 5 years?

It is likely that CartoDB will be around in five years. CartoDB is accessible by any internet browser and provides very basic (or complex) mapping capabilities and is very easy to use. The ability to pull from various open source data sets is very appealing for the average user.

I hope it can launch a new feature to allow for downloading Torque map as video format.

Recommendation

CartoDB is an exceptional mapping tool. You can create a variety of visualizations from geographical data in its basic, free version. It is easy to import or find any data and create a custom map from that data. It is very easy to learn and aesthetically pleasing.

Examples of data stories that used this tool

Contributors to this Review


ChartBlocks

April 13, 2015

ChartBlocks is a great tool for data visualization, it is widely used and available.The program is free, with sign up but advanced membership available with monthly payment. Notable data features primarily charting tools.

Media Type/s: Spreadsheets, charts
Skills: Easy if you explore through the program tutorial not really needed
Cost: Free ( advanced features with paid membership)
Recommended: Yes

Screenshots

Screenshot (27) Screenshot (28) Screenshot (29)

What is the tool designed to do? Who is it designed for?

ChartBlocks is designed to work with tables – rows and columns – of data. It can work with data sets that are large (at least in the hundreds of thousands of rows). You can sort and filter those rows easily. The program is extremely easy to use once you play around with the features. It is very easy to get acquainted with the site. ChartBlocks also has a number of fairly sophisticated charting features to create visualizations. If you don’t like how the visualizations look, you can clean them up in the program, which is very helpful and a big time saver.

How do you learn it?

Opening a file and messing around with it in ChartBlocks is super easy. To learn more advanced features there is a tutorial that is available to watch. The program is not difficult to learn, all that is required is curiosity. Our recommendation to get started is to open the program and use it as much as you and then seek out help for specific tasks that you need to accomplish in ChartBlocks.

How long has the tool been around? Who authored it?

ChartBlocks was founded in January 2014 developed from Github.

Do you think it’ll be around in 5 years?

I believe this program will  be around in 5 years. The world today is always looking for the fastest way to use data and visualize it whether for fun or professional use. This is definitely an application that can be used and will more than likely have upgrades done to it.

Recommendation

If you want to put a visualization of data together, this tool is more than helpful.

Examples of data stories that used this tool

Since the app is fairly new, no news stories have used this application yet

Contributors to this Review

  • Virginia Vincent

Charted.co

April 13, 2015

Charted.co is a free and easy tool that automatically creates a chart based on the URL you insert.

Media Type/s: Spreadsheets, charts
Skills: Extremely easy to do, not much skill needed
Cost: Free, online
Open Source: Yes
Recommended: For simple visualization
Visit: Charted.co

What is the tool designed to do? Who is it designed for?

Charted is designed to automatically create a chart quickly and efficiently. It is designed for anyone who needs a quick and basic chart with no formatting options.

How do you learn it?

All you have to do to use Charted is paste the link to a .csv file or Google Spreadsheet right in the box on the front page and click “Go.” This is pretty intuitive, but if you want to learn more before you start, you can click on the link that says “How it works” at the bottom of the page, which takes you to a Medium post with instructions on how to use the tool. You can also see an example of a visualization made with Charted by clicking “Try an example.”

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 1.03.06 PM

How long has the tool been around? Who authored it?

The Product Science team at Medium created the tool in 2013.

Do you think it’ll be around in 5 years?

I definitely think that Charted will be around in the next 5 years just because it is a tool that is so basic and easy to use. If you are in need of a quick chart, Charted is the tool to use. I think that it will grow even more and become more advanced as the years go on.

Recommendation

Charted is the definition of basic. If you are in need of a great visual piece, Charted isn’t going to be the tool to use. But, if you need basic and simple, I would recommend it. It’s also very easy to use, so it’s perfect for anyone just starting out with data visualization.

Examples of data stories that used this tool

Contributors to this Review

  • Kassandra Ryback
  • Jillian Meehan

 


ThingLink

April 13, 2015

ThingLink is an interactive media platform that allows users to create engaging content by adding media links by tagging photos and videos. The online tool can add a fun element to multimedia stories. It allows the user to take a photo and make it interactive by adding small descriptions around the photo. When the reader rolls over the “nodes” the descriptions written pop up.

Media Type/s: Interactive images and videos
Skills: Easy
Cost: Free basic plan for students/educators; up to $49 a month for a more advanced plan
Open Source: No
Recommended: Varies between desired use
Visit: ThingLink

Screenshots

Here's a simple picture of a teacup pig - it's been made almost educational with the use of the buttons around it.

Here’s a simple picture of a teacup pig – it’s been made almost educational with the use of the buttons around it.

You can learn more about the image by hovering over some of the buttons place on it, which reveal videos, pictures, and other information about teacup pigs.

You can learn more about the image by hovering over some of the buttons place on it, which reveal videos, pictures, and other information about teacup pigs.

What is the tool designed to do? Who is it designed for?

ThingLink is designed to make images and videos into interactive stories. It’s designed for anyone who wants to be a storyteller through more engaging visualizations, so journalists might especially benefit from using it. Educators and students could also use it to great effect in presentations and projects, but the tool is designed for even just an average person who might be interested in sharing something on social media. Once you’ve uploaded an image, which you can either upload from your hard drive, Facebook, or a specific URL, ThingLink opens an image editor. From there, you can search for other media from Youtube, Vimeo, Soundcloud, and more. You can then easily position other images, videos, and music over your background image by dragging them to where you want them. ThingLink also gives you the option to add captions to the media that you add, if you so desire. ThingLink is also inherently social as a website. If you create an account, you can follow people and have your own followers. You can also tag your posts so they appear under relevant categories when other users explore the site, which mirrors common features on social networking sites. You can even track your statistics to see how many views, hovers, and clicks you’ve had on your creations.

ThingLink is a great multimedia storytelling tool. People don’t like to see a vast amount of written information on a page and this solves this problem by hiding the information. It allows the reader to control what they want to see and how long they want to see it, which will most likely make the page more appealing to them. For the creator, it is very easy to use and multimedia journalists should at least play with it.

It is good for stories that need explaining, especially through photos. It allows you to dissect a photo and break down the most important parts, without overwhelming the reader with a big block of text. It would be a good component as part of a larger multimedia piece, but most likely not on its own like most visualizations.

How do you learn it?

ThingLink is extremely user friendly. You first have to create an account, which you can do with your Facebook, Twitter, or with an email account. If you want to explore other users’ images, you can click “Explore” and poke around to gain inspiration. If you want to create your own image, you can click “Create” and immediately upload a picture of your choice. This takes you to an upload page, where you drag and drop or select a file from your computer. Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 1.40.01 PM

The above screen will popup where you actually create your image. Let’s say we’re doing a story on the anatomy of Fenway for example. The window shows you your photo and you just click to “tag” different parts of it to add descriptions. It’s pretty similar to Facebook tagging, just with descriptions instead of people. This upgraded tagging can add a lot to a static photo. Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 2.03.33 PM

When readers roll over the big white dot, they will see the description and can click on the link for more information. These nodes are easily customizable, with different shapes, colors, sizes etc. They make it easy to get the look that you really want to convey.

Adding music and videos can really amp up your photo as well. What’s great about ThingLink is that you can use the program itself to search, so you don’t need to leave the site to find the perfect media. Layering other interactive media over that picture is easy, since a search bar pops up that lets you search some video host websites. Once you’ve uploaded your picture, you have access to content from websites like Amazon, Vimeo, Youtube, Soundcloud, etc. A shortcoming in the basic version of ThingLink is you might be constrained to only what that search bar lets you find. The more advanced versions might enable you to upload your own interactive media.

Once the project is completed, hit save in the bottom right corner. Don’t forget a title on the top or else it will just name it all the descriptions you wrote! It brings you to the screen below where you can see what interactions you made and gives you the chance to go back and edit them.

On the right hand side there is a “Share” button that posts the project to social media or embeds it on another website for a multimedia story.

The program is extremely easy to use. Any working journalist with basic computer skills will be able to use this. The only issues may arise from trying to embed the final product.

How long has the tool been around? Who authored it?

Ulla Engeström founded ThingLink in 2005 but was launched in 2010. She launched the beta in San Francisco with the intention of creating an open database for artists, crafters, and other “makers” to create labels and register “free unique identifiers” for their products.

Do you think it’ll be around in 5 years?

ThingLink will only continue to become more relevant as data journalism and social media use grow. The kind of stories that can be created with ThingLink are highly desired, and their shareable features make them even more useful. I think ThingLink’s popularity will slowly dissipate because it’s so limited in the way one can “storytell”. Maybe if there were additional features, it would have a better chance of surviving other up- and-coming journalism tools. However, outside of the journalism environment, ThingLink will have a hard time trying to branch out to other groups of people found on social media.

Recommendation

I think ThingLink is a great tool for small presentations, and informing people with a fairly minimal amount of information. It is a quick-information-fix, so that’s one positive quality about it. As far as a legitimate journalism tool, there are too many finite details within this industry that can’t go ignored, and ThingLink doesn’t have the room for that. I like it, but I’m not sure I’d ever find myself using this for something other than a quick class presentation. Even so, if you are having a difficult time with ThingLink, then it is best to stick with the basics of PowerPoint and/or Prezi.

Examples of data stories that used this tool

Contributors to this Review

  • Miranda Bethune
  • Nick Fosman
  • Casey Campbell
  • Madison Noteware

Word Counter

April 13, 2015

Word Counter quickly counts the most frequently used words, 2-word phrases, and 3-word phrases in a body of text. It’s simple, easy, and fun to use.

Media Type/s: Text
Skills: Extremely easy
Cost: Free
Open Source: Yes
Recommended: Yes
Visit: Word Counter

Screenshots

Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 11.45.28 AM

Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 11.45.00 AM

What is the tool designed to do? Who is it designed for?

Word Counter seeks to count the most commonly used words in a text file. It’s designed for people who want to visualize data and tell stories but who have little programming skills. Journalists who hope to count the number of words in a speech by a politician, for example, could certainly use Word Counter to help them analyze campaign methods or even styles of speech-giving. While the site was originally designed to “support some activities… in our data visualization and storytelling classrooms,” it could be used by anyone, just for fun!

How do you learn it?

It’s an easy one-step tool. Simply copy and paste text into the word counter, or upload your own file. It then shows your results immediately! Word Counter also offers the options to include or discount common words and case sensitivity, in case you want to isolate particular words like “God” versus “god” in, say, a biblical text.

How long has the tool been around? Who authored it?

Word Counter seems to have been created quite recently – I believe it was pioneered in 2015. Rahul Bhargava and Catherine D’Ignazio created the tool for their data visualization classes.

Do you think it’ll be around in 5 years?

It’s likely that Word Counter will be around in 5 years. While it’s a relatively new tool, it’s applications are broad and make it extremely useful. One of the most helpful features is the ability to export each of your results as a CSV file, which you can then open in Excel and explore further. That possibility makes the tool particularly helpful and relevant. However, since the tool is so new, it might undergo some changes and evolve into something else. At the same time, its accessibility to non-programmers means that as data stories continue to rise in popularity, more average people might want to use it.

Recommendation

Word Counter is a curious person’s dream: it encourages exploration of multiple forms of data, just to see what results will turn up. The website’s clean design also makes it easy to use and navigate. Overall, it’s fun to play around with, but also extremely useful in analyzing text files. The ability to download your results and explore them with other programs also contributes to the tool’s usefulness.

I also think the program would be extremely helpful to writers. If you enter the text from a paper you’ve written, you can strengthen your writing by seeing what words you tend to over-use, and then adjusting your distribution of words to make sure you don’t repeat too many terms.

Examples of data stories that used this tool

I couldn’t find any data stories that explicitly stated having used this tool, but this story demonstrates a potential application of the word counter tool.

Contributors to this Review

  • Miranda Bethune

 


Tiki Toki

April 13, 2015

Tiki Toki is a desktop app that allows users to create web-based multimedia timelines to provide historical context for a story. Stories are illustrated with text, images and videos from Youtube or other websites. The site has an educational focus, specifically for teachers to create timelines for classrooms. Tiki Toki timelines are easily embedded into other sites using its premium version. Tiki Toki offers a free version trial to create a timeline with 200 events. However, users must subscribe to a paid account for more features.

Media Type/s: Multimedia timeline
Content details: Historical data and media content (video, photos, text)
Skills: Easy
Cost: Free Account with some limitations,
         Teacher Account $125/year
         Bronze Account $7.50/month
         Silver Account $25/month
Open Source: Yes
Recommended: Yes
Visit: Tiki-Toki

Screenshots

 Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 4.25.16 PM

Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 4.28.07 PM Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 4.28.46 PM

What is the tool designed to do? Who is it designed for?

Tiki Toki is designed to tell a story on a timeline. You can use it to tell a story to your family or friends like a story of your parents’ 25th anniversary. It is a great way of telling a story in a chronological order and teachers can use it in the classroom or individuals and small community groups or small businesses and professional bloggers.

It is easy to share and embed onto your website or blog and you can work with it on your browser and you don’t need to download anything to your computer.

It has a group edit option only for Bronze and Silver account where it allows more than one person to edit the timeline at the same time which is great if you’re doing a group project.

Tiki Toki is a desktop app used to tell a story with a timeline. It has a timeline on the bottom of the page with years, months and even days labeled on the timeline and you can create up to 200 stories (with the free account) on this timeline and illustrate your stories with images and videos from youtube or other websites with videos.

You can provide a little summary of what your story is about and add background and feature images for your main story in addition to the pictures you add to each story on the timeline.

Tiki Toki is designed for many different end users from teachers, individuals, small community group to small businesses and professional bloggers. It seems to be pretty straight forward. You can make your timeline clean and simple or you can make a multimedia one. The good thing about Tiki Toki is that it seems to have only this one function of making timelines which I personally prefer to using a tool that has too many functions.

The plus side for Tiki Toki is that you don’t need to download anything on your computer, it works on your browser. It’s easy to share and embed to your website or blog and it is aesthetically pleasing which is important when telling a chronological story. And in premium accounts you can make group edits.

How do you learn it?

It is pretty self explanatory and when you hover over each button a little window pops up with detail of what that button does and there is a whole page dedicated to FAQs and tutorial videos on their website. They also have videos on Facebook and Google+. There are also some videos on Youtube that show you how to play around and make timelines.

Working with Tiki-Toki looks pretty straight forward. What I like about Tiki-Toki is that it is a single function app. When you hover over the buttons a window pops up where details appear of what that button does. Also there is a page dedicated to FAQs and tutorials. They also have a Google+ account to help users familiarize themselves with the app. They also have a Youtube channel with tips and how-to videos.

Tiki-Toki is extremely easy to use and navigate. There is a wide range of customization options to get the optimal look for your timeline presentation, and adjusting the panel sizes is very intuitive.

How long has the tool been around? Who authored it?

Webalon is a London based web design and development company. They launched Tiki Toki in 2010.

Do you think it’ll be around in 5 years?

What I like is about Tiki Toki is the limited function. One website just to make timelines but it makes me unsure of whether or not it will be around in 5 years unless it adds other functions to the app. If other platforms which already have other functions add the timeline function to their website then people are more likely to use them because they are already familiar with that platform.

An app with just one function is not very likely to survive in 5 years.

What I like about Tiki-Toki is that it is easy to use and that it is single functioned, but because of that, it’s longevity is uncertain. The simplicity of it appeals to many people, but more complex software/programs could gain foothold because there is more to do with them. It’s tough to say, Tiki-Toki could go either way.

Due to how quickly technology is developing and advancing, I would agree that this is hard to predict. However, I do think marketing the application to teachers is a smart move because I can definitely see Tiki-Toki being used as a fundamental tool for classroom presentations in five years. Similar to Prezi, Tiki-Toki allows for a multimodal presentation of ideas in a layout that is much more versatile and easy to use than Powerpoint Presentation.

Recommendation

Tiki-Toki is a very easy-to-use tool. The website walks you through every step as you make your first timeline and is never too cluttered or confusing. It gives you a lot of creative freedom with your timeline. The user is allowed to choose color and appearance of the timeline, as well as adding descriptions and pictures to each story. It is easy to navigate from a reader’s standpoint as well, so you never need to worry about confusing your audience.

I would definitely recommend Tiki-Toki, primarily because it does not require a download and does not take up space on your computer. It looks extremely professional, and I would use its timeline features for both school and work. It is also very easy to share timelines through email, message, or through links.

Examples of data stories that used this tool.

Contributors to this Review

  • Shaz Sajadi @shazsaj
  • Schae Beaudoin; schae_beaudoin@emerson.edu
  • Kate Bartel; kate_bartel@emerson.edu
  • Madison Noteware; noteware@mit.edu

 


MapStory

April 13, 2015

MapStory allows users to tell stories through spatial dimensions and time. Users collaborate, create, and share maps and information with each other with a goal of increasing our understanding of the world around us. MapStory emphasizes its goal of connecting the disconnected around the world but gets a little convoluted in the process. The site is still in development. Many of the stories created on MapStory are community or campaign based stories. The MapStory Foundation promotes creating a community that is engaged and empowered by the maps that are created on the platform.

Content Details: Data (json format)
Media Type/s: Spreadsheets, charts, maps, data sets
Skills: Medium: Easy to understand but difficult to create
Cost: Free
Open Source: No
Visit: MapStory

Screenshots

Map Story Home PageScreen Shot 2015-04-13 at 2.16.14 PMScreen Shot 2015-04-13 at 2.22.32 PMScreen Shot 2015-04-13 at 2.27.40 PM

What is the tool designed to do? Who is it designed for?

There are four basic functions of MapStory: uploading, creating, editing, and exploring. The tool is designed to raise awareness on events happening around the globe.  There are different genres of maps to explore, ranging from “GeoPolitics” to “Culture & Ideas” to “Nature & Environment.” The tool is made to be used by essentially anybody. It’s goal is to make data collaborative and accessible for all so one can be a user or an observer.

Readers can look at visualization of all different topics, separated by sections such as Health, Nature and Environment and Human Settlement. Overall, this application is good for looking at stories based in history, progression in society and the changing face of culture and nature– naturally with the map interface.

How do you learn it?

The site  has a WikiHow page in the About section that provides a clear step-by-step explanation of how the site works ranging from how to get started to how to get involved in community initiatives. Additionally, there are youtube videos dedicated to explaining MapStory features.

Opening a file in MapStory is not very easy. I attempted to upload a CSV file regarding registered ZipCar users by Boston zip codes only to find out that CSV files must be in latitude/longitude format. Unlike in GoogleMaps where you can select how to geotag, this has stricter requirements. It is fairly intuitive when it comes to how to upload a StoryLayer and how to create a MapStory. There are clear indicators of where to click to create. Additionally, there are clear indicators of how to add new layers.

My recommendation would be to browse around the site a bit to get a better understanding of all of the different aspects., It is helpful to familiarize yourself with these terms:

  • StoryTeller- The StoryTeller is the individual who has uploaded either data, visuals, or has helped to edit the MapStory. The site describes a StoryTeller as anyone who has contributed knowledge in any way.
  • StoryLayer- The StoryLayer is the set of data that serves as the base for the MapStory. The example provided on the site is every location and date of all Civil War battles
  • MapStory- The MapStory combines various StoryLayers with audio, video, and other visuals to create a complete package.

For each MapStory there is a ‘play’ and ‘pause’ button where you can see dots form based on chronology. However, the processing speed is a bit slow and it lags behind. You are able to embed maps onto your own site.

On the homepage there is a section named “Get Skillz” where a reader is directed to a Wiki-page, where a community member “Besty” takes you step by step on learning how to become a contributor to the community.

Some of the tutorial videos were very helpful, while others were self-explanatory and seemed to drone on for a very long time…

What separates MapStory from other applications mainly is that it’s used a lot by people who want to consume the data and visualization, not create it.

How long has the tool been around? Who authored it?

The tool was initiated in 2011 by Dr. Christopher Tucker, a political scientist and social entrepreneur based in Alexandria, Virginia. Tucker first thought up MapStory as a political science PhD student at Columbia University in the early 1990s, where he realized there was no simple way to share data with other scholars about how places evolve over time, according to the MapStory site. In 2013, the site opened up with a team of about ten or so developers.

Currently, they are very open to feedback by users and encourage people to get in touch with any tips they may have on how to improve the site. Since their inception, they have formed relationship with archival organizations in Washington, D.C. and other areas around the country to help create new maps and visualizations.

MapStory is funded by an OpenGov grant from the Sunlight Foundation.

It seems to me that they have a goal beyond creating visualizations. There is a lot of information compacted into one website, and their main focus is to educate people.

Do you think it’ll be around in 5 years?

Although there is still a long way to go, I think that the concept of MapStory is commendable and that if they are able to improve the site’s functionality then they will succeed. They are not looking to become the next GoogleMaps- they are looking to become a hub of learning and information.

The idea of collaborating and learning from each other presents promise in terms of how the site can expand. The organization has a larger goal than just creating visualizations- they want to serve the under-served and educate the uneducated through empowerment and human knowledge.

Recommendation

MapStory is creative in theory but I would recommend holding off on using this tool for a few more years. It is interesting to browse and gain knowledge, but it is not advanced enough at this point to create an effective map or visualization.

If you are using geography based or progression over a large area of space or time, MapStory could be useful. It is very engaging and there are tools there to help you go through each step of the way if you’re ever confused or

Examples of data stories that used this tool

Contributors to this Review

  • Kathryn Breen @kbreen139
  • Madison Noteware
  • Brendan Scully

 


Plotly

April 13, 2015

Plot.ly is an online collaborative data analysis and graphing tool that facilitates easy to create, share, fork and comment on other’s plots. Users can customize, download and embed their data visualizations. The website provides special functions from API libraries for Python, R, Matlab, Node.js, Julia & Arduino, in addition to Figure Converters which can convert matplotlib, ggplot2 and Igor Pro graphs into interactive, online graphs.

Media Type/s: Charts, Graphs, and Spreadsheets
Skills: Moderate. Easy, if you follow tutorials.
Cost: Free: For Public Use
$396/year: For Personal/Individual Use
$948/year: For Professional/Corporate Use

$9,950/year:  On-Premise (installed within local server)
Open Source: Yes
Recommended: Yes
Visit: Plot.ly

Screenshots

 

Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 2.19.36 PM Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 2.34.41 PM

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What is the tool designed to do? Who is it designed for?

The tool is designed to work with tables – rows and columns – of data of different formats including csv, xls and etc. and to visualize the data into different kinds of plots including line plots, scatter plots, best fit, bar charts, heatmaps, area plots, histograms, box plots and bubble charts after you choose the right x and y-axis. As long as you have selected a specific template to visualize the data, you could customize the visualization by filtering and sorting different choices with the tool of traces, layout, axes, notes and legend. If you are interested in codes or documentation, you can also enter the API library and search the specific tool library, like Plotly Python Library, Plotly Matlab Library etc. for documentation samples of different charts.

The tool is designed for interactive graphing users, like journalists, professors, researchers and people working for whatever fields would use data visualization. The tool is also designed for scientists, engineers, programmers and even hardware hackers in terms of its API library function.

Plotly can be used at both the beginner and advanced level, offering multiple ways to interact with data and present it.

At the most basic level, it operates as a web application with a graphical interface for creating plots and stylization. Basic properties like fonts and colors can be easily manipulated, with other options to manipulate margins and padding if one wishes. With very little effort, one can use plotly to quickly create bar charts, line graphs, heat maps and bubble charts, to name a few. Some operations, like adding a line of best fit to a scatter plot, are also convenient with the push of a button.

More advanced users can make use of the API libraries, which allow the user to customize their graphs even further by using programming languages like python, matlab, R, node.js or julia for more in-depth scientific graphic. Excel users can also get in on the action with an Excel plugin. Users also can have their graphs interface with hardware using Arduino, to allow for more interaction.

As a data tool, plotly would work best in presenting data for presentations where stories can be told through traditional mediums, like line charts, scatter charts or heat maps. For basic users without knowledge of programming languages, plotly offers basic charting and plots with the added flash of being easily shareable and interactive at a superficial leve, with information available on hover. The community aspect is brought by an activity feed, which allows users to see other published graphs and make comments or fork that graph and its data.

Plotly also provides a facility to create dashboards using the plots you created, as well as text or webpages.

Basic usage aside, plotly’s hardware interfacing also offers the ability to tell stories that cna be updated in real-time as a way of presenting dynamic data.

How do you learn it?

The website itself has video tours on basic functions for starters and help center where people making graphs online could get instructions step by step on making plots, engineers, data scientists could also get help on different programming libraries. You can also find tutorial videos on Youtube and Vimeo.

Plotly offers numerous tutorials on their website, for some more basic chart types and how to create them, and how to make dashboards, and do more advanced APIs in both video and text format. A cursory Youtube search also reveals community-made tutorial videos on specific aspects of plotly, as well as simple introductions.

You can find a list of the official tutorials, including videos here, API documentation here and Hardware workshop tutorials here.

For basic operation, the web interface can be learned fairly quickly. Running through a tutorial or two will allow a user to quickly familiarize themselves with how to create some simple plots and change some simple properties to add custom styling.

For more advanced data manipulation, knowledge of a programming language may be extremely useful or even necessary. the web interface is mostly limited with static data that a user would import in manually, and does not have ways to easily execute very complex or custom operations on that data. With the API libraries, plots can be generated with a programming language.

How long has the tool been around? Who authored it?

Plotly was founded by Alex Johnson, Chris Parmer, Jack Parmer, and Matt Sundquist in Canada, 2012. It has been a powerful tool for journalists, researchers, engineers and computer scientists for around three years.

Plotly was named one of the Top 20 Hottest Innovative Companies in Canada by the Canadian Innovation Exchange. Plotly was featured in “startup row” at PyCon 2013.

Do you think it’ll be around in 5 years?

Plot.ly will likely be around in 5 years. It is a powerful and convenient tool for visualizing data. The interactive process of creating charts and customized sorting are easy to master. The user could both import a dataset and create a grid online. What’s more, the online tool is designed for both individual and enterprise, which make its customers diversified. Easy ways of sharing and the cooperation with other programming websites make it a great platform for all kinds of needs relating to data.

Recommendation

While not as famous as Tableau, Plot.ly is a reliably and conveniently interactive tool for visualizing and analyzing data. It’s very easy to learn and worth taking time to dig into its abundant functions.

For basic graphs, I would recommend Plot.ly to a friend. Plot.ly seems to excel in the creation of traditional graphs with the added flair of ease of sharing and interactivity on web. Even for those with programming experience, having an interactive and easily shareable graph that is viewable and publishable on the web is useful. With the documentation and code snippets in the API library documentation, using plotly would not be a large hassle to learn and use.

However, for those already with programming experience, or those wishing to create richer data visualizations that don’t involve traditional plots, I would not recommend Plot.ly.

Examples of data stories that used this tool

Contributors to this Review

  • Siyi Huo (Sherry) @SiyiHuo
  • Emily Kirk
  • Edwin Zhang
  • Madison Noteware
  • Jimmy McInnis
  • Joshua Dankoff

Google Charts API

April 15, 2015

Google Charts is a data visualization tool that allows for a clear and potentially interactive web-based experience between the viewer and the data. It is a great, free tool for creating custom charts that can be embedded on a webpage. It requires some knowledge of html, but is easy to pick up with some tutorials and practice.

Media Type/s: Charts
Skills: Moderately easy with tutorials
Cost: Free
Open Source: No
Recommended: Yes

Screenshots

Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 9.13.33 AM

 

What is the tool designed to do? Who is it designed for?

Google Charts is designed to create interactive charts or graphs to display data. Google provides a basic layout for the code that can be copied into a text editor and customized to the user’s liking. Other tools, like Excel and Google spreadsheets, also allow the user to create charts and graphs but the level of customization is limited by what the tool allows access to. Allowing the user to access and edit the code directly dramatically increases the number of ways the charts and graphs can be manipulated, allowing for a greater range of interactivity. While there are a large number of customization options, what can be done is limited by the user’s knowledge of coding. HTML is a very basic language though, so with practice and tutorials anyone can maximize their skills. Charts is designed for anyone with a need for quality data visualization, though the use of code may initially intimidate novice users.

A list of text editor options can be found here.

Google Charts is a data visualization tool that allows for a clear and potentially interactive web-based experience between the viewer and the data. It allows for the creation of many different types of charts and graphs, including line graphs, pie charts, bubble graphs, histograms, maps, timelines and tree maps. Because it is very versatile, it can be used to display many different types of data. Most of the visualizations generated by Google Charts display an unlabeled data point. By scrolling over an area, line or point, the data name and value is specified. This makes Google Charts particularly useful for depicting geographic data or showing data points with a trend line, as it is fairly clear what each point or area represents without a label. While this makes the visualization very clean, it can also make bar graphs and pie charts, when it is important to know what points or areas are representing what data, somewhat unclear.

How do you learn it?

The best way to learn this tool is by playing with the portions of code that the user understands. Having the text editor open to learn along with tutorials makes for an easy access point, though learning how to code in HTML is incredibly beneficial. Codecademy is a free and easy way to learn code, and tutorials like this one on YouTube soften the learning curve. Google Charts provides customization options, so once the user has a basic knowledge of code the best way to learn the tool is by playing around with it in the text editor.

Google Charts has extensive examples and tutorials available. This website includes examples visualizations and sample code for over twenty-five different types of charts and graphs. The sample code seems to be the most helpful resource for learning and troubleshooting the program.

Google Charts is relatively easy to use. Working off of the sample code requires that only the data and a few parameters be modified. In addition, because it is compatible with JavaScript, the generated graphs can easily be integrated into a website. Basic familiarity with reading and writing programs is assumed to create visualizations in Google Charts. Because this tool is designed to be used largely for graphics that are integrated into webpages, this seems like a skill set that most prospective users would have. That said, the modifications that need to be made to the code to generate simple graphs, such as pie charts and bar graphs, seem like they would be very straightforward, even for someone with little or no programming background.

How long has the tool been around? Who authored it?

Google released the Google Chart API on December 6, 2007. It has since been updated into Google Charts.

Do you think it’ll be around in 5 years?

Some version of Google Charts is highly likely to be around in the next 5 years. The use of HTML and the fact that it’s free to use give it a leg up competitors, especially since it it maintained by the software giant Google. There is little to indicate Google will be going anywhere, and being able to save the charts on a computer mean that it’s very easy to back up charts and tables in safe places.

Recommendation

Google Charts is an incredibly useful tool for creating more advanced charts and tables, though for the novice user something like Google Spreadsheets is recommended. Charts is a step-up in terms of power, but also in terms of its learning curve. If you’re willing to spend the time necessary to learn HTML, then this is one of the best tools available. Unfortunately for WordPress users, an additional plugin is required to embed the interactive charts. Instructions on how to do that can be found here.

I would recommend Google Charts to someone with basic programming knowledge who is looking for an easy to use tool to cleanly and interactively depict their data. The pie charts and line graphs are depicted in the most user-friendly and informational way to the viewer. However, there are many tools that allow you to easily make these graphs. By contrast, the Geo Chart and Map displays create visualizations that do not show data labels unless you scroll over them, which can be confusing or may be beneficial, depending on the type and quantity of data being depicted. However, this tool allows for these visualizations to be made much more easily than other programs I’ve seen. Therefore, I think it could be very useful for people making these types of charts. Even for complex data sets, this may be a good tool for someone to use to initially visualize their data and uncover trends. Because Google Charts is very fast and easy to use, I will likely be using it at some point in uncovering or presenting a data story. It is a much more effective presentation method for some datasets than others, but it is still useful as a tool to see the same data presented in different ways and to uncover trends when developing a data story.

Examples of data stories that used this tool

Google’s Examples

Contributors to this Review

Ryan Smythe (@ryan_the_smythe)
Madison Noteware
Mary Delaney
Mario D. Zepeda

 


Meograph

April 20, 2015

Meograph is a simple and easy multimedia storytelling tool, mainly used by journalists, but now it encourages marketers to engage their customers by using this tool to tell brand stories.

Meograph is a web-based presentation tool that focuses on audio stories as the main story component. Users can use audio, images, texts and a map to tell a multimedia story. Meograph has a crowd sourced and campagin element embedded within the platform, as users can engage with their audience members through social media.

 

Content Details: Audio, images, text and geographic coordinates
Media Type/s: multimedia storytelling
Skills: Easy if you follow some tutorials
Cost: ~free (Free Trial)
Open Source: No
Recommended: Yes
Visit: Meograph

Screenshots

屏幕快照 2015-04-12 00.25.04屏幕快照 2015-04-12 00.27.50

What is the tool designed to do? Who is it designed for?

Meograph  is designed to work with different media types to tell a rich story, users can combine audio, photo, video together on a work page, and to design the content themselves. Some people use it for makeup demo, some for telling important moments for a sport star and some may use it for introducing a family tradition.

Meograph is designed for many different end users from major media organizations, companies around the world, thousands of schools, to tens of thousands of storytellers. Meograph is democratizing multimedia expression and are building an entire suite of easy-to-use creative tools.

Meograph ideally is a great tool to create digital stories, evolved. Although, it isn’t as flexible as it appears to be. I followed several YouTube tutorials that detailed how to use Meograph, though I feel it was creatively limited. This site could potentially be beneficial for multimedia stories.

Meograph is like an advanced slideshow. It allows you to add moments, which are slides, photos or videos to develop your multimedia story. One cool tool used within Meograph is a map that creates 4D storytelling. You could also add links to create an interactive piece.

Adding MomentsHow do you learn it?

The best way to learn the tool is to try it yourself. You can just simply sign up with your Facebook account or goole account, then you enter the page that introduce you the process for creating a new meograph. I just made a very simple one telling the news of Angelina Jolie had her ovary removal surgery with audio and photos.

The disadvantage is apparent, it takes time to create a “mix” (media types you all combined together) especially when you need to think of what you gonna say to fit the photo or text. If you are not a journalist, you may be really confused about how to tell a story with all the media in your hand.

Overall, Meograph wasn’t too hard to use. So the skills needed to become proficient are very basic. The site itself doesn’t allow you to expand those skill sets to be used as a powerful tool. And if you’d want to use your own YouTube channel, which I feel is just another unnecessary step.

How long has the tool been around? Who authorized it?

Misha Leybovich, previously a consultant with McKinsey and a graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology together with co-founder Francis Escuadro first introduced Menograph at 2012, generated large number of users. But the downside for this tool is obvious, barriers to participation and time consuming may make the users have little incentive to use Meograph. The company may also have realized that the tool need to be more fun, more accessible and more interactive so they made a big transition to develop an app called “Trio” last year in November. Basically this app still use the same business model as Menograph, but already change to a new platform- the mobile app. This app makes it easy to remix other people’s (friends, celebs, brands) assets (Instagrams, Vines, GIFs, iTunes) into mashups, create a new mashup takes only 1-5 minutes, you can comment on other’s post and you can like or dislike other people’s posts; what’s more, you can follow your friend, celebrity’s accounts.

Do you think it’ll be around in 5 years?

IMG_3968IMG_3971

After I downloaded the app Trio, I am thinking Meograph may not be around in 5 years since the company has already changed their focus on mobile app Trio. Trio, on the opposite, may still be active if more improvement can be made. One thing I like Trio is because it’s very interactive, I think that’s the company’s main consideration as well, since today’s most successful mobile apps like Snapchat, twitter, facebook all share one common feature: interactive. Trio allows you to follow other people, share mashups on facebook, comment on others’ posts, which make it very social interactive.

However, I think one of the disadvantage of Trio is that it try to do so much things all at once, first you need to create, you need to have an idea what to do, what to share, to tell what kind of a story, for users it is just too much; not to mention you have to choose what kind of music fits your mashup. Finally when you make it public it may not be as perfect as you think.

Other functions like you can choose favorite or dislike anybody’s mashups are all telling me one thing: I can do too many things with an app that I almost end up with doing nothing. Apps like Snapchat tells us sometimes users just want simple function, you need to have uniqueness, you need to direct the users what you want them to do, do not leave too much thoughts to your users, that takes time.

Examples of data stories that used this tool

Recommendation

I’d recommend Meograph to a friend as a quick and easy tool, but to use it for an official website or along with a well-developed story I think another program could proide a better quality multimedia/digital story.

Contributors to this Review

 


Silk

June 26, 2015

A free platform to publish your data. Import clean data to turn it into simple visualizations and webpages.

Silk is a website to display data in story format and create data visualizations like charts, bar graphs and maps. Since the current version is in beta, the layout is confusing and difficult to learn, so this tool could be more useful once the company streamlines it. The beta version may also create limitations for companies.

Media Type/s: Publishing platform
Skills: Easy (harder to learn all the option/ work with a complex data set)
Cost: free for public use, limited free for groups
Open Source: Yes
Recommended: No
Visit: Silk

Screenshots

Silk DataViz - featuredSilk DataViz -2

How to use Silk for Data Journalism video

What is the tool designed to do? Who is it designed for?

This site is designed to create data visualizations such as bar graphs, pie charts, and maps, all using CSV files that can either be imported or inputted manually. It’s designed with journalists in mind (they actually have a journalist on staff) in order to easily supplement “Best of” feature or articles dealing with stats, locations, business, trends, or studies.

Silk, “a place to publish your data,” is an all-in-one dashboard for your datasets, letting you turn them into simple visualizations and webpages. It starts with the concept of collections (equivalent to spreadsheets or tables in a database)– you can import data into these collections via CSV or Google Spreadsheets. A single Silk website can have multiple collections, so you can pull on related topics from various sources. Notably, Silk is not a tool for data cleaning; you must prep your dataset beforehand, including things like sanitization and naming/formatting. The final visualizations have some rudimentary filtering and exclusion tools, but they are not sufficient enough for major changes. Within the inverted pyramid of data journalism, Silk fits into the latter two sections: combine (figuring out how your collections fit together and what data from each is important) and communicate (actually designing and creating the presentation of the data).

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While Silk requires no coding per se, it can be an intimidating tool just starting out due to the sheer number of features. For each item in a collection, Silk auto-generates a page for it with all the information filled in, along the lines of an Amazon product page of a website’s user profile page. These pages are searchable and filterable, giving you (as well as your users — for the free plan, all pages created are also public) a front-end to explore the records in your dataset. Moreover, you can add other team members to your Silk, turning it into a collaborative data library along the lines of the PANDA Project. To facilitate this collaboration, there is a feed page where you can see all the recent events/changes made by members of your Silk. It is interesting that the tool provides all this functionality even though there are few cleaning features (you can edit field names and make edits to individual records — that’s it). Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 2.48.41 PM

Once you’ve determined your data of interest, you can choose from a number of different visualization methods: tables, lists, grids (for datasets with images), groups (clustering based on a field), maps and a number of charts. Depending on what presentation format you’ve chosen, Silk will try and auto-detect which columns might be relevant (e.g. geographic data for a map or numeric data for any of the charts) and plop that data in. You can do some fine-tuning in terms of what column are displayed, how the data is sorted, and how many records to include. However, you cannot really customize the visual look and feel of the visualizations themselves– you can’t really do any sort of graphic design (e.g. color/size — everything is auto-generated) or creative variations on the defaults. Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 3.04.32 PM

Once you’ve created all the visualizations you want, you can save them and add them to pages; these pages can be further populated with text or image content via WYSIWYG editor, much like a blogging software or GUI-based web design applications. As such, you can create entire articles with the visualizations embedded/interspersed throughout — it’s especially nice that Silk links up everything automatically; for example, clicking a bar in the chart links to that specific item page, allowing readers to fully explore the dataset in that way.

Overall, if you can get over the initial intimidation of Silk’s huge feature set, it’s not terribly difficult to use, though some of the visualization-creation interface is quite non-intuitive. Thankfully, the Silk team has created a number of video tutorials and a FAQ section to guide you through the process. The two big gaps in Silk’s functionality are its lack of data cleaning functions and lack of customizability over visual presentation (within specific visualizations, not over the entire page). If you want a one-stop, out-of-the-box solution for managing multiple data sets and turning them into websites and those caveats dont’ bother you, Silk might work.

As for myself, given that I do have code and design experience, I won’t be using Silk and wouldn’t recommend it to any friends who have opinions about those things. There are far better tools for data exploration and far better tools for data visualization; if you know enough about basic web development, you can just use those and put the results together yourself without the help of Silk.

How do you learn it?

It’s tedious to learn by relying on your own intuition and experimentation but for this app it seems true that practice is what makes perfect. The tutorials help a bit by explaining where to find individual tools, but their steps are geared toward very simple data entry and doesn’t show you enough for you to be able to do it on your own after. It may take hours of using this tool to fully understand it and use it effectively.

How long has the tool been around? Who authored it?

The company, currently based in Amsterdam and San Francisco, was founded by Lon Boonen and Salar al Khafaji. They are venture-backed by Atomico Ventures and New Enterprise Associates.

Do you think it’ll be around in 5 years?

They have a pretty big staff for such a new website and a lot of investment, so it appears that they have the business backing for it. This money needs to be geared towards advancing the usages of this tool while laying it out more simply. Currently, in terms of usability, they’ll need to make their website much more intuitive and easier to use if they want to stick around.

Recommendation

This beta system should not be used if you are looking to get a lot out of it but if you need simple, quick data set ups then this tool would be useful. Even for a quick data chart, you’ll probably spend a good amount of your time navigating, troubleshooting and trying to learn everything, opposed to actually creating content, when you first start using the tool. The maps and charts are pretty basic so you shouldn’t look for something unique like from apps such as CaroDB and Tableau. I tried making a map with a data set imported from CSV and it wouldn’t even recognize the locations because I couldn’t have both the GPS X and GPS Y. I could have geo-referenced the locations on another website or app, but what’s the point in that when CartoDB or Tableau are self-sufficient and could do everything in half the time?

Examples of data stories that used this tool

Contributors to this Review

  • Stephen Suen
  • Elissa Sanchez
  • Jennifer Ortakales (@fashionistagal1)
  • Madison Noteware

 


ESRI StoryMaps

June 26, 2015

ESRI StoryMaps are 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.

Media Type/s: Interactive Map Platform Skills: Medium Cost: Public accounts are free, paid subscriptions for advanced accounts are available  Open Source: Yes Recommended: Yes Visit: ESRI StoryMaps

Screenshots

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 2.33.07 PM

What is the tool designed to do? Who is it designed for?

This is a web-based tool perfect for making interactive maps, with narrative elements. Using various applications, Story Maps directs users to their preferred type of map (Sequential placed-based, a curated list of points of interest, one map, a series of maps, or a custom design) and then has detailed instructions from there. There are many different apps available for what kind of story you want to tell. Story Map lays them all out on their site, while also recommending what type of story they would work best for. The easiest template is Story Map Basic, a single map that you can customize with your data, a title and legend. For place based narratives, you can do a Journal or a Tour; these templates rely more on photos and text in order to tell the story. Story Map has several apps for stories that need a series of maps to convey information-you can present multiple maps in a tabbed, side accordion or bulleted layout. For comparing maps, there is Story Map Swipe and Story Map Spyglass. The Story Map Shortlist is an app that can be used to showcase points of interest in a particular map-I found this similar to My Maps on Google Maps. Lastly, there is the option for users to create their own Custom template on Story Maps.The more advanced apps let you customize your maps with multimedia options (text, images, video). It is interactive, has lots of things to click on and keeps the viewers attention.

How do you learn it?

Luckily, the story maps has a very detailed tutorial on how to use the maps/which options is best. The process of creating one of these maps is very involved (you have to important your data from various places and it can be time-consuming). This YouTube video (though long, and not so compelling) is very helpful. It showed me how to organize my data in a cohesive spreadsheet, that would include coordinates, links to photos, and other information. There are many different elements to creating a story map, so it is important to stay organized. I found this tool difficult. In order to make one of the nicer maps, you have to create the background map on a different app, called ArcGIS online. The website does a great job of directing users to the right links and information, but overall it took me a long time to actually get a handle on it. Using the ArcGIS software wasn’t too difficult, it reminded me of CartoDB, but once you had to bring that graphic into the story map I got confused. Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 2.50.37 PM To use this, you should have a strong understanding of excel and a good hosting platform for your photos/videos before you get started. With organization, I think this tool could be useful. But it would take a while to compile a story here.

How long has the tool been around? Who authored it?

ESRI is based out of California. Jack Dangermond founded ESRI in 1969 with the intention of creating mapping services that can help deepen the understanding of the world. ArcGIS Online MapViewer (aka Story Maps) was authored by Joseph Kerski and posted in 2014.

Do you think it’ll be around in 5 years?

ESRI Storymaps is a part of the company Esri, which created the ArcGIS platform. According to National Geographic, GIS stands for Geographic Information System, a computer system that can be used for “capturing, storing, checking, and displaying data related to positions on Earth’s surface”. It’s basically the online version of a map. In the GIS world, Esri is a big player: according to their website, they have a 43% share in the GIS market. I think this tool will be around in five years, but it looks like the company will continue to privatize the more advanced features of this website.

Recommendation

I would recommend this to someone who had time to dedicate to it. If you were meticulous and organized about your data and pictures and planned it out before opening this tool, I think it would be much easier to use. You would definitely have to do research before diving in. It is a good balance of usability and a wide array of powerful features. Positives: Very visually appealing, easy interface to interpret, can incorporate many different kinds of media, can important data sets Negatives: Time-consuming, challenging

Examples of data stories that used this tool

Contributors to this Review

  • Jacqueline
  • Madison Noteware
  • Deirdre Murray
  • Riley Hunt

 


Mapbox

June 29, 2015

Mapbox is a cloud-based tool for publishing customizable, interactive maps. They provide maps for many major services– Foursquare, Pinterest and Uber for example. Mapbox builds on and authors a lot of open source mapping libraries; for example, their map data comes from projects like OpenStreetMap. One of the great things about Mapbox is that it is designed for various levels of technical expertise. If you have no coding skills, it is incredibly easy to use via the Map Editor; for developers and designers, you can add interactivity and customize the visaul style using Mapbox.js and Mapbox Studio.

Media Type/s:
Skills: Varied levels
Cost: Free Starter Plan
         $5/month Basic Plan
         $49/month Standard Plan
         $499/month Premium Plan
Open Source: Yes
Recommended: Yes
Visit: Mapbox

Screenshots

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 2.49.55 PM Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 2.50.10 PM Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 2.51.04 PM

What is the tool designed to do? Who is it designed for?

Mapbox is a mapping tool for developers. The Map Editor is the quickest way to create a map. Mapbox maps consist of a baselayer– the map– and overlays– the data you add onto it. You can choose many baselayer styles, from the hip and nostalgic theme “Wheatpaste” to the streamlined “High Contrast.” Data overlays take on three forms: markers (points referring to a single place), lines (the distances between two places). A user can add these features by dragging and dropping, or by importing a file (.geojson, .csv, .kml, .gpx) that includes latitude and longitude fields. You can also customize the color and icon of these data features.

Publishing your map is easy. You can view the map directly at a Mapbox URL, embed your map into a website with HTML, download data features from your map, or use your map ID to treat it like an API. Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 2.39.11 PM

The open-source Javascript library Mapbox.js is a way to sidestep these kinds of issues and add exciting, interactive features. Mapbox describes itself as “developer-focused,” championing the fact that their maps can be altered for your project’s functionality needs. For example, a short JS script could be inserted into my HTML that clusters markers together, using a numeral that indicates how many markers are in a tight space.

Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 2.47.11 PM

Mapbox Studio is geared toward the design of the map. This platform allows you to apply your own stlyes, customizing everything — from roads and parks to bodies of water and location names — to your (or your brand’s) needs. The platform builds maps using vector tiles, which combine the strengths of tiling images with vector data. According to their website, vector tiles “rethink web maps from the ground up, providing a single efficient format to power raster tiles, interactive features, geojson streams, mobile renderers and much more.” You can style maps by using the CartoCSS styling language.

mapbox

How do you learn it?

Mapbox provides 43 guides on its site, geared towards getting started or on specific topics.

How long has the tool been around? Who authored it?

Mapbox was founded by Foundry Group in 2010 out of Washington DC. Check out Mapbox’s timeline to learn about the progression of their company from helping international NGOs tracking Malaria in Western Africa to mapping the damage to roads and buildings following the earthquake in Nepal this April.

Do you think it’ll be around in 5 years?

Yes. Mapbox continues to grow. It has opened mobile platforms and has grown to a hundred person team.  It is currently based in Washington D.C. and San Francisco. It is used by Foursquare &  Mapquest and in June it raised $52.6M to be the “Map Layer” for all apps.

Recommendation

I would definitely recommend Mapbox for a data storyteller who wants to tell their story via maps. Mapbox provides great documentation and a beautiful, easy-to-use interface. The tool is easy to use for beginners, while highly customizable if you have coding or design chops.

Examples of data stories that used this tool

I decided to represent where my class of 2015 student cohort in Comparative Media Studies has traveled as part of grad school experience. I prepared simple .csv files and uploaded them. Within minutes, I uploaded the data and made a map with funky background as well as customized the markers, assigning a color per student and a letter that corresponded to his or her first name.

Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 1.59.38 PM

Still, I ran into some problems that couldn’t be addressed just through the Editor. For example, several of us traveled to the same city, often at different times. Because the lat/long I entered for these data points were the same, the most recently added marker would always cover the others in the same location, making it seem like there was only one data point there.

Contributors to this Review

Desi Gonzalez
Madison Noteware


Timeline JS

June 29, 2015

TimelinenJS is an open-source tool that enables you to build visually-rich interactive timelines and is available in 40 languages. TimelineJS is a useful tool to make interactive, professional timelines. It’s a great platform for weaving multimedia in with your data.

Media Type/s: Timelines
Skills: Easy (Following tutorial is required for first use)
Cost: Free
Open Source: Yes
Recommended: Yes, Depending on Dataset
Visit: Timeline JS

Screenshots

screenshot 1templaye

What is the tool designed to do? Who is it designed for?:

TimelineJS is designed to create a standard timeline using a particular Google Sheets template (provided by TimelineJS). It can be used to combine dates, event descriptions, and media from Twitter, YouTube, Wiki, Soundcloud (and many more) in an organized, numerical order. It is designed for anyone with access to the internet and an interest in organizing historical events in an interesting way. The tool however has limited usage due to the fact that the data must be formatted in the TimelineJS template – requiring all data to be input by the user. Thus, the tool is best used for datasets of limited scope to map out important events (rather than all events to create a trend timeline).

This tool is simply for building timelines. It is extremely user friendly and only requires about four steps to create a really attractive timeline. Timeline JS is not particularly useful for large data sets (no more than 1000 entries), because the data has to be presented in the unique TimelineJS template. Any established large datasets are rendered unusable due and would take a lot of patience on your part, because it is not as simple as just uploading your dataset. I think that Timeline JS is more useful for ongoing reporting projects, or smaller data sets. One great feature of using the Google Spreadsheet is that you are able to continuously update your data, while still using the same single spreadsheet.

Timeline JS is often used for documenting someone’s life or specific events/series of events.

How do you learn it?:

A simple video tutorial on the homepage with  step-by-step guide is available when creating your timeline. It is impossible to create a timeline with TimelineJS without following their step-by-step process. Once you know the process, it is easy to maneuver around while making your timeline and it is definitely worth learning how to use this tool.

This website, http://timeline.knightlab.com, is a great way to learn about the program and how to use it.

First, watch this short introductory video. As explained in the video, you have to input your data into their Google Spreadsheet template. After doing so, all you have to do is publish your spreadsheet to the web. Now you are able to go back to Timeline JS and by pasting your link to the published spreadsheet, create your timeline!

Publishing the dataset to the web can also be an asset or hinderance. If the timeline creator does not want their dataset to be accessible to all – than TimelineJS may not be the preferred tool for creating timelines.

When the user follows the tutorial and has an adequately sized dataset, the tool is straightforward and simple. All of the programming is done for you and the spreadsheet template is built and accessible. All you have to do is add your data. You should be proficient in either Excel or Google Spreadsheets to use Timeline JS. It is just helpful to be familiar with the program and how to add/remove rows, insert hyperlinks and data, things that are very easy but very important.

When the tool is properly used, it results in a creative, impactful timeline of events that can be used to enhance a story or as a stand-alone storytelling device – there are also examples of timelines on the homepage to explore the great lengths one can go with this tool.

 

Points To Note:

  • To include a photo you can ONLY insert a link of the photo- in the “media” field – you can NOT upload an actual photo
  • You MUST enter a year in the field in order to successfully create a timeline
  • Hovering over the headline categories provides additional pointers to navigating and creating the timeline

How long has the tool been around? Who authored it?:

TimelineJS was created in 2013 and is hosted by GitHub. (No longer true)

TimelineJS is now hosted by the Northwestern University Knight Lab. The Knight Lab is “a joint initiative of the Robert R. McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science and the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications.”

Do you think it’ll be around in 5 years?:

The tool will likely remain functional in five years, however it will not likely become more complex. In five years, users will likely be using the same template. It is also unlikely that the tool will advance to support larger datasets.

Since it is free and largely depends on Google Spreadsheets, there is also a chance it will disappear with the ever evolving technology. However, instead of disappearing altogether, it is likely that other paid softwares (like Tableau) will incorporate this tool (or a similar one) into their program to allow larger datasets to be visualized along a timeline without the need for a specific template.

Recommendation:

I would recommend Timeline JS to a friend. Particularly to a journalist who is spending a good deal of time reporting and may not have the time to deal with the programming involved with making a timeline like this. This sort of timeline is much more fitted for more qualitative data — pieces of a story that you can string together to tell a narrative over a certain period of time. I would like to use Timeline JS to illustrate solar/renewable energy initiatives in Boston over time.

For simple data sets, I would recommend this tool. It still has some things to work out (such as not recognizing Facebook photo links) but that’s an understandably complicated area. This tool only creates uniform timelines, so if you are looking to design a unique timeline, I would look elsewhere. This tool is very easy to use and makes a simple timeline for your audience to follow.

I would recommend this tool for limited datasets. Either small original datasets (like events in a single person or family’s history) or larger dataset that have been collected and reduced to the most important events (detailed timeline of an event, extended histories, etc). One must bear in mind that choosing what data is presented in the timeline is solely at the journalist’s or publication’s discretion, and those using this tool must be mindful of that responsibility.

Another recommendation would be to use it to tell a story of one’s personal life, such as a biography, or to illustrate changes of an event or item overtime.

Examples of data stories that used this tool:

Contributors to this Review:

  • Cristina Hasenohrl (cristina_hasenohrl@emerson.edu)
  • Abigail Collins
  • Chelsea Tremblay (@tremblay_chels)
  • Hannah Miller (hannah_miller@emerson.edu)
  • Madison Noteware (noteware@mit.edu)
  • Dalinda Ifill-Pressat (dalinda_ifill@emerson.edu)

Datawrapper

June 29, 2015

Datawrapper makes easy, interactive charts.

Media Type/s: Data Visualization Platform

Skills: Beginner Cost: Free Open Source: Yes Recommended: Yes Visit: Datawrapper

What is Datawrapper? 

Datawrapper is an open source project by ABZV, a German training institution for newspaper journalists. It enables users to create simple yet interactive charts that can be embedded into articles/stories.

How do you use it?

Basically users can upload a CSV file or paste a clean data set file into the Datawrapper text box, choose which type of chart to create and then continue to edit as they go in order to create the data visualization that they want. There are a variety of chart or bar options to choose from: bar charts, column charts, grouped column charts, stacked column charts, line charts, pie charts, election donuts, data tables, maps and more.

The uploaded data set will appear in an excel format in the Datawrapper box. At this point, users can edit any changes they want to the labels.

The next step for the user is choosing the type of visualization that they want to create and editing any other elements to the visualization. Other editing elements users can customize at this point include refine, annotate and design.

Anyone accessing the graphic chart will be able to click and hover over it for interactivity. There’s a link to your original data set that is automatically embedded within the graphic. You can also customize the pixel dimensions of the chart.

With a variety of editing options to create a data visualization, Datawrapper is suitable for almost any type of story that requires a chart/graph visualization type. The basic interactive component of Datawrapper also make the program stand out from other visualization tools.

Pros and Cons

Like any data visualization tool available online, there are pros and cons to using Datawrapper depending on a user’s needs and/or preferences.

The program is simple enough to use, making it ideal for first-timers. It allows users to create basic interactive visualizations and has an adequate amount of editing options inside the program despite its simple nature. This works best for users who are tight on time yet want something more than just a two-dimensional chart. And, of course, the tool is free to use.

One of the downsides to Datawrapper, however, is that it cannot do any advanced data clean up although users can manually edit the data during the visualization creation process.

Data privacy can also be a potential issue since any projects uploaded onto the public site is accessible to anyone – this can easily be resolved by downloading the program onto a personal server. But the site has a tendency to slowdown internet browsers which means it could possibly slow down users’ server. The program is free, however, users will not be able to use their visualizations unless they create an account on the website (which is still free to sign up).

data wrapper2

Learning curve: how easy is it to use?

In order to jump straight into using Datawrapper, your data must be previously cleaned. Basic knowledge of Excel or similar software is helpful when using Datawrapper although unnecessary. The site offers a Quick start guide which gives a quick run-through of the creation process for new users. It also has a tutorial with screenshots for beginners who may have never created a data visualization before.

But the process of creating the visualization is very quick and simple – creating a chart from a new, clean data set only takes a few minutes.

Do you think it’ll be around in 5 years?

Yes. Datawrapper is a useful visualization tool because of its ease and quickness. It was recognized in the African Innovation Challenge in 2012 and won the “Best start-up for news” contest of Global Editors Network in 2013.

Datawrapper is currently used by journalists working under tight deadlines at numerous publishers worldwide. Among the publications that have utilized Datawrapper in to create visualizations for their stories:

           

Very simple to use and makes good charts if you’re on a deadline.

Summary

The best part of all is that Datawrapper is free and easy to use. With notable publications such as The Guardian using Datawrapper to support their stories gives the program credibility. Other examples of data stories that used this tool:

This program is recommended for anyone who is looking for a simple, quick tool to create basic yet interactive graphics.

Contributors to this Review

Natasha Ishak

Madeline Bilis

Madison Noteware

Philippe Gonzale


RaphaelJS

June 29, 2015

RaphaelJS is a small JavaScript library used for work with vector graphics on the web.

Media Type/s: JavaScript library
Skills: Medium
Cost: Free
Open Source: Yes
Recommended: Yes
Visit: Raphael JS

Screenshots

What is the tool designed to do? Who is it designed for?

This library can be used to create responsive and interactive animations and representations of data such as pie charts, maps, timelines and many more. It is great for custom visualizations that allow for different types of user interaction (mousing over, clicking, etc) and offers great flexibility for implementing your ideas.

Because everything is rendered using SVG (scalable vector graphics), browser compatibility is a big plus, which is pretty important depending on your target audience.

Raphael does not have a huge focus on datasets, however. Developers have built an extension to the library named gRaphael that allows for easy creation of charts, such as line charts, pie charts, etc., as shown in the following image. gRaphael examples

How do you learn it?

To get started, you can download the JavaScript file hosted here, include it in your HTML page, and then start coding! Here’s an example taken from the site:

// Creates canvas 320 × 200 at 10, 50
var paper = Raphael(10, 50, 320, 200);

// Creates circle at x = 50, y = 40, with radius 10
var circle = paper.circle(50, 40, 10);
// Sets the fill attribute of the circle to red (#f00)
circle.attr("fill", "#f00");

// Sets the stroke attribute of the circle to white
circle.attr("stroke", "#fff");

The website also shows a few demos as shown in the picture above, and you can inspect the code used to create them by loading the page source for each demo.

A few tutorials:
tutorial 1            tutorial 2             tutorial 3

Raphael is a bit more hands-on because it is so flexible. All you are given is a library of methods to use, and a few examples of how they are used to produce various visualizations. However, you will need to implement anything you want to show using JavaScript in HTML5 websites, is necessary to become proficient with the library.

Running through a few tutorials will give you the basic familiarity needed to hit the ground running, but if you have little to no programming experience, you might have a bit more difficulty. The developers do provide documentation for the methods, as well as examples of the syntax, so while it shouldn’t be extremely difficult to pick up, the difficulty lies in putting the methods together to create what you want.

How long has the tool been around? Who authored it?

Raphael JS was developed within Sencha Labs in 2013. Its primary developer is Dmitry Baranovskiy. Read Dmitry’s introduction to Raphael in this article.

Do you think it’ll be around in 5 years?

Yes. The JavaScript library is compatible with many browsers (including Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera & Internet Explorer). Raphael is used on over 3,000 websites, including the homepages of Apple’s iCloud, Food Network, Washington Post, Times Online, and the White House.

Recommendation

If you have an idea for a fairly complicated interactive (i.e. animations and custom charts), or a clear design for what they want, but also has experience programming, then I would recommend it. However, if you don’t necessarily have the time or experience, I would recommend other WYSIWYG tools, which are much quicker to use, albeit with less flexibility.

Depending on what the friend is trying to do, I would strongly recommend using gRaphael in addition, to make it easier for working with datasets.

Examples of data stories that used this tool

  • Simple SVG windmill example
  • Interactive Pie Chart demo
  • Maze Mod with Raphael demo

Contributors to this Review

  • Tami Forrester
  • Madison Noteware

 


Highcharts JS

June 29, 2015

Highcharts JS is a complex JavaScript tool that helps users create a lot of different types of chart visualizations (plots, pie charts, bar graphs, etc.). The charting library facilitates adding interactive charts to websites or web applications.

Media Type/s: JavaScript Chart Visualizations
Skills: Medium (requires JavaScript)
Cost: Free for noncommercial
Open Source: Yes
Recommended: Yes
Visit: Highcharts

Screenshots

Screen Shot 2017-03-27 at 7.22.43 AM

What is the tool designed to do? Who is it designed for?

This tool is great if you want to create classic graphs that show trends over time. The types of graphs that it can produce are similar to those one can produce in Excel, but are much more interactive. This makes for better data exploration, and often times just for a more clear representation of data in general. All of the graphs that you produce with Highcharts have interesting hover effects, such that hovering over particular data points or line will show specific values which are useful in exploration and probably also outlier analysis. These effects bring a log of extra life to the graphs.

Since this is a Javascript tool (with great hover effects and interactivity), its graphs are meant to be displayed on the web. Lots of major companies (61/100 of the world’s greatest companies) are already using Highcharts, including Facebook, Twitter, and Yahoo. In fact, exploring most of Highchart’s demo graphs felt very familiar and intuitive to me, likely because I’ve encountered the same types of graphs before on third party websites without realizing it (like the NYTimes).

If you’re looking to create simple, classic plots for a quick visualization, this is the product for you. They have a set of standard graphs that are incredibly easy to plug data in and produce yourself by editing the coding like pictured above.

How do you learn it?

This is an extensive and mature product, and therefore it has support forums in addition to support emails, Github reporting, Stack Overflow help, and a book to reference. It is free to use for non-commercial purposes. Interestingly, all the files are downloadable and therefore customizable. This is something that the company markets in particular, because users can use the existing product as a baseline and alter it to fit their specific needs.

This is a JavaScript product, so basic proficiency in JavaScript is a big plus; however, I don’t think that its necessary because starting from any one of their many demos, it would be easy to plug in your own data and change around label names. It is also possible to make very interesting and complex graphs – the process of moving beyond the basic graphs would be much more involved (and definitely require Javascript proficiency), but it would have a greater value yield and Highcharts has extensive support resources.

The library can be easily incorporated into websites through simple script tags in the HTML headers and can be used in conjunction with jQuery or as a standalone tool. There are a lot of cool demos on the web, a few of them I’ve linked to here: snow depth vs time and population growth by religion.

There are also customer showcases, where companies that have used the product are showed along with what type of graphs they created and for what purpose.

Additionally, Pakt Publishing offers a book Learning HighchartsIt’s forward is written by HighCharts’ CTO & Founder.

How long has the tool been around? Who authored it?

Released in 2009, Highcharts JS was authored by Highsoft AS, a company from Vik i Sogn, Norway. It was founded by Torstein Hønsi, who was looking for a simpler way of having charting tools without dealing with flash plug-ins. Its sibling products include tools for mapping and imaging i.e. Highstock, Highmaps, Highcharts Cloud & Highslide JS.

Do you think it’ll be around in 5 years?

This is a highly established product. Highcharts has high profile clients including Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, Visa & Groupon to name a few. Not only that, it has been getting recognition and awards such as Norway’s Entrepeneur of the Year 2012. It is very likely this product will continue to be around in the next five years and perhaps help users besides those using it for professional services learn to create more complex visualizations.

Recommendation

I would highly recommend the product. Because of it’s easy access and ability to directly edit data, it makes it an easier and quicker tool even if a user does not know how to create their own data.  The graphs and the versatility of the types of graphs makes it a tool many can use for presentations or presenting data visualizations with ease with simple and clean graphics. The best point is the the fact its graphs are interactive.

It is a mature, well documented, and widely used product that can create beautiful and interactive graphs with little effort on the side of the user. I think that it is slightly more intuitive to use the D3.js, though the two products are similar, both being rooted in JavaScript. This tool is definitely for final data presentations, not for intermediate steps or data cleaning.

Examples of data stories that used this tool

Highcharts offers an entire section of its site to demos such as Basic line chartArea Spline, and Meteogram. There are more complex and nontraditional charts that can be used for visualizations like the ones below.

Contributors to this Review

  • Danielle Man
  • Madison Noteware
  • Corallys Plasencia

 


RAWGraphs

June 29, 2015

Create Simple Visualizations Quickly. RAW is an online drag-and-drop tool for uploading csv data and creating common visualizations such as scatterplots, treemaps, and circle packing diagrams. RAW is open source and provides guides for adding your own visualization types (using D3.js)

Media Type/s: Data Visualization
Skills: Easy
Cost: Free
Open Source: Yes
Recommended: Yes
Visit: RAWGraphs

What is the tool designed to do? Who is it designed for?

RAWGraphs has 21 visualization types which are built using drag-and-drop and can be customized a minor degree. If you need to generate several common visualizations to support your data story, RAW can make them very quickly.

Be warned that RAW runs in a web browser and cannot handle large datasets (i.e. more than a few MB). Furthermore, since many of the visualizations display all the data points, a visualization produced for as large dataset will be cluttered and unreadable.

Thus, RAW is good for stories that require several simple visualizations built on a dataset consisting of small to medium sized csv files.

How do you learn it?

Since RAW is simple to learn, you can jump right in and start using it. For a quick intro, consult the video tutorial. For further information, consult the Github wiki.

If you are a developer trying to add a new chart type to RAW, consult the developer guide.

Skills needed

RAW guides you step-by-step through building the visualization. Therefore, it’s easy to learn. Beyond understanding what each visualization means, RAW requires no additional skill set, which makes it very easy to use.

The primary challenge in using RAW is understanding each type of visualization. For example, if you don’t know what a Voronoi Tessellation is, then RAW gives you no guidance on how to interpret the visualization.

For developers, extending RAW requires a knowledge of the JavaScript language and D3.js library. Familiarity with Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) and Angular.js may also be useful.

How long has the tool been around? Who authored it?

RAW was built on D3.JS by the DensityDesign Lab out of the Politecnico di Milano and Calibro. 

Recommendation

I would recommend RAW as a tool for building visualizations to support a data story or for finding possible stories if Tableau is inaccessible. Visualizations can be built quickly with RAW, so it’s useful for exploring your dataset by building visualizations. Furthermore, since the visualizations can be exported as SVG, HTML, PNG, and JSON, it’s easy to embed them into an article or similar data story.

If you are working with a large dataset (ex. several MB or more), RAW may not be able to handle all your data. Furthermore, the visualizations become cluttered very easily.

There does not appear to be an option to add a title, legend, or any additional labels, which is a crucial part of any visualization. Although it’s possible to add features to the code, it may be quicker to build the visualization using a different tool. If you want precise control over your visualization, RAW may be too restrictive for you.

Examples of data stories that used this tool

RAW has several pre-loaded datasets that can be used to get your feet wet. For example, this dataset is on the animal kingdom, their class, their family, their order, and phylum.

 

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 11.20.33 PM

Upload your file

Choose your vizulization type

Choose your dimensions.

The final product: note the absence of title or legend.

Export options. You can download the visualization as a .png, .svg, or .json. You can also use the embed code to insert it directly into HTML pages. Export options: you can download the visualization as a .png, .svg, or .json. You can also use the embed code to insert it directly into HTML pages.

Contributors to this Review

  • Harihar Subramanyam
  • Madison Noteware
  • Patrick Torphy
  • Deborah Cardoso

Google Chrome Scraper Extension

June 29, 2015

The Google Chrome Scraper extension is a browser extension for Google Chrome that allows users to quickly and easily scrape data from websites inside the browser.

Media Type/s: Data extractor
Skills: Easy
Cost: Free*
Open Source: Yes
Recommended: Yes
Visit: Scraper Chrome ExtensionExplore the Site
*Enterprise Data Extraction Services:
        $50-  100,000 pages
        $90-  250,000 pages
        $125- 500,000 pages
        $175- 1,000,000 pages
        $250- 2,000,000 pages

Screenshots

 

What is the tool designed to do? Who is it designed for?

The scraper is similar to many other scrapers available today. If one has experience scraping, the tool is very intuitive. If one has little or no experience scraping, the documentation is fairly comprehensive without being overwhelming, and there are plenty of opportunities for support.

However, to become proficient in the tool, one must understand the process of scraping, as well as concepts such as selector trees, different types of selectors, and pagination. Learning these concepts, as well as how to use the tool, does take some time and effort. It took me, with some prior scraping experience, about an hour to read through all of the documentation and to learn how to use the tool.

Because it is a Chrome extension, no other downloads, software, or account is required, unlike some other tools, such as import.io. The tool, much to the delight of my Linux-loving heart, has no operating system requirements. However, the extension only works for Chrome, so you must have a current version of the browser installed.

One drawback to the tool is that data can only be downloaded in csv format, so if you are looking to use it in a database– MySQL, for example– you must import it manually or find some other workaround.

I also suspect, judging it based on its simplicity, that this tool is not as powerful as some other scraper tools. However, for what it is– a free browser extension– the tool is quite powerful.

How do you learn it?

To get started, you can download the extension from the Chrome Web Store or the scraper’s official website. The site also includes tutorials, documentations, screenshots, test sites to help first-time users practice using the tool, and links to a help forum and bug tracker. If you have no experience scraping, I recommend reading through these resources to get a sense of how to use these programs, and watching the introductory video.

If you know the basics of scraping, the documentation is still useful for getting a sense of the capabilities and specificities of the tool. For example, the scraper supports many types of selectors and methods for selecting. The extension also supports pagination, or scraping through multiple pages of a website.

How long has the tool been around? Who authored it?

The extension is offered by Martins Balodis. It currently has 42,252 users and a 4.0/5.0 rating with 140 reviews.

Do you think it’ll be around in 5 years?

It was most recently updated in 2014 and based on its high reviews I believe it will still be around in 5 years.

Recommendation

I would recommend this to anyone looking for an easy way to scrape data from websites into a csv form easily and without obligation to create an account or download specialty software. Because the tool is a Chrome extension, acquiring the tool is simple. The documentation makes it rather easy for novices to use the tool, especially if they have a baseline knowledge of scraping.

Examples of data stories that used this tool

Contributors to this Review

  • Val Healy
  • Madison Noteware

 


Pandas

June 29, 2015

Data analysis library for Python.

Media Type/s: Python Library
Skills: Medium (requires coding in Python)
Cost: Free
Open Source: Yes
Recommended: Yes
Visit: Get Pandas

What is the tool designed to do? Who is it designed for?

Pandas is a python library for data exploration, manipulation, and analysis. Primarily it includes data tables and time series data structures, along with methods for manipulating them. Dataframes are the central objects in the library, which are similar to excel spreadsheets. Pandas was inspired largely by a statistical programming language called R, and maintains many of the basic data structures and methods included in R, such as data frames. The creators of Pandas are Financial Data Analysts.  One of the reasons some prefer Pandas to R is the fact you’re coding in Python. Another reason is that it interfaces very well with other great python packages (matplotlib, numpy, etc…); in many cases you can just drop a Pandas dataframe into your favorite matplotlib or numpy functions and get the desired behavior, which is great!  It’s alwo quite fast on many tasks, as it uses numpy for many basic dataframe methods. Dataframe’s ability to handle missing data makes it an invaluable tool when dealing with any kind of data.

How do you learn it?

Here are some resources for getting started:

Using pip or anaconda to install pandas is the safest/best way to get started: here

I also made a github repo for this blog post: here

If you don’t have iPython, you can view the notebook I have made through the nbviewer website using the following link: here

Pandas website: here

10 minute quick pandas tutorial video

Julia Evans PyCon Pandas Tutorial for data analysis: video

iPython Notebook examples:

example 1             example 2             example 3             example 4

If you are familiar with python, its pretty much just picking up a new library. It might take a while to get comfortable with the dataframe data structure (pandas documentation is not super helpful), but once you’ve gotten the hang of its indexing notation and the oodles of incredibly useful methods for wrangling data its a very easy and powerful tool.

How long has the tool been around? Who authored it?

Wes McKinney began developing Pandas for AQR Capital Management in 2008.

Do you think it’ll be around in 5 years?

Pandas became a popular Python tool in 2012. The project is considered one of the most vital and active data analysis libraries for python. New releases of Pandas are constantly being released (the most recent 0.16.2 version was released June 2015).

Recommendation

If you know Python or need to do more advanced data analysis, then I would recommend it. In my opinion, the main thing Pandas has going for it is that it is a Python library. It is easy-ish to use because easy-ish to use. Its main advantages just come from its proximity to Python, and the fact that it’s the only popular data analysis package out there. I’m not really a Python programmer, but I use the DataFrames and DataArrays packages in Julia for statistical analysis relatively frequently so I imagine I will use Pandas for some of the data cleaning and analysis for my final data story as well.

Contributors to this Review

  • Nolan Essigman
  • Madison Noteware

 


NLTK

June 29, 2015

Natural Language Toolkit: NLTK is a natural language processing for Python. It has a ton of great language processing tools. However, they are by no means idiot-proof, and you will be sad if you don’t know Python. One does not simply download nltk and spit out useful results in five minutes.

Media Type/s: Python language processor
Skills: Hard
Cost: Free
Open Source:
Recommended:
Visit: Install NLTK

Screenshots

What is the tool designed to do? Who is it designed for?

NLTK is a Python module that contains probably every text processing module you’ve ever had a vague inkling of a need for. It contains corpuses of language for machine learning/training; word tokenizers (splits sentences into individual words or ngrams); part-of-speech taggers; parse parts of speech in sentences (with trees!); and much, much more. It’s good for analyzing lots of text for sentiment analysis, text classification, and tagging mentions of named entities (people, places and companies).

How do you learn it?

The creators of nltk have published a book for free online that explains how to use many of the features nltk has. It explains how to do things like access the corpora that nltk has; categorize words; classify text; and even build grammars. Basically, the best way to get started is install nltk, then go through the book and try the examples they present. They include code examples in the book so you can follow along and practice using different functions and corpuses. There’s also a wiki attached to the github and stackoverflow, where programmers go when they’re lost, is of course a useful (but often very specific) resource. The learning curve required to become comfortable leveraging the different functions available is fairly steep because they are so many and so specialized, and in my opinion the best way to gain that comfort level is to simply play around with nltk and build cool things to gain experience. Simply reading the book, while interesting, won’t be enough to become good at using nltk.

How easy or hard is it?

Well, it’s certainly easier than writing all of this from scratch, no matter how competent a programmer you are.  The one thing that can be difficult with Python modules is that you’re not entirely sure what’s under the hood unless you get cozy with the source code.  That means you might not be sure what’s causing a performance issue, why it doesn’t like your input, or why your output looks a certain way.  Also, figuring out exactly which function to use for a specific task might be somewhat confusing as well unless you have a certain amount of experience in machine learning or know exactly what you want (it’s hard to go wrong with tokenization).  For example, the built-in classifier is only as good as the features you feed it; giving it too many high-dimensionality items might result in overfitting or just horrendously slow code, and giving it low-dimensionality items might mean it can’t classify the items effectively.  Experience with Python datatypes and object-oriented programming is also very, very important; if you don’t understand what a function is, what list comprehensions look like, and how Python dictionaries work, the example code given in the book will be incomprehensible.  Even though the printouts from the example code look very nice and fancy and clean, the knowledge behind their creation (how do you print things that look nice? what is a development set? how do you use/leverage helper functions like tokenizer and the nltk function that gets the n most common words/letters? how do decision trees work?) is far from simple.  Anyone with programming experience can use the simpler functions very effectively and the less simple functions with probable success, but in my opinion knowing how classifiers and parsers work is important to use them well.  The bottom line is that they’re only as good as what you feed them, and understanding how definitive or accurate their output is requires a degree of understanding of what’s under the hood.

How long has the tool been around? Who authored it?

NLTK was created in 2001. It developed from an University of Pennsylvania computational linguistics course. Many others have contributed and expanded the scope of the project. NLTK is often taught within a semester as an advanced undergraduate level or at the postgrad level.

Do you think it’ll be around in 5 years?

Seeing as this toolkit has been around and developed for nearly 15 years, I believe it is safe to assume it will still be around in 5 years.

Recommendation

If that friend had a similar programming background to me (can write Python code pretty well; knows a little bit about machine learning) I’d recommend it with little reservations other than a warning about the learning curve and the overwhelming abundance of options.  I’d still suggest they at least skim the book and keep stackoverflow close at hand (although that’s true for most programming projects that venture into unknown territory).  If my friend wasn’t comfortable with machine learning, I’d suggest they read up on Wikipedia about whatever classifiers they use so they have an idea of why the classifier misbehaves, if it does, or what errors it’s likely to make.  And if they weren’t comfortable with programming, I’d suggest they look into other natural language processing tools.  This is a tool that’s made by programmers and scientists, and it shows in the documentation, the resources, and the wealth of options available to those who know how to use them.

Examples of data stories that used this tool

Check out code for simple tasks using NLTK here

These tasks include:

  • Tokenizing and tagging text
  • Identifying named entities
  • Displaying a parse tree

Contributors to this Review

  • Alyssa Smith
  • Madison Noteware

 


R-Project

June 29, 2015

The R Project is an environment for statistical programming. It facilitates data manipulations, calculation and graphical visualizations.

Media Type/s: Programming
Skills: Easy
Cost: Free
Open Source: Yes
Recommended: Yes
Visit: R Project

Screenshots

What is the tool designed to do? Who is it designed for?

R is a free open-source statistical programming software descendant from S that came out of Bell Labs. Rstudio is a commonly used user interface for R. Both can be downloaded for Mac, Windows, or Linux.
R is great for custom data visualizations and advanced statistical analysis.  It also forces you to be structured and repeatable in your data analysis–the process of interacting with your data requires explicitly writing out the steps of interaction, unlike Excel or similar approaches.  Once you have powered through the learning curve you can quickly summarize and visualize your data.
Lots (a majority?) of statisticians use R and share their most recent work through R packages that extend the functionality of “base R” (the initial installation).  Packages that I commonly use include: RColorBrewer, plyr, ggplot2, lattice, stringr, reshape2, and there are many other useful packages out there. Some additional suggestions can be found here and googling will lead to many more results.  R also offers a variety of open source datasets both as a part of a package or the purpose of the package, such as the census data.  R also includes communities supporting particular aims, such as the rOpenGov project.
R does a good job of handling situations common to real data analysis such as missing values or cleaning strings.  It can handle large data (and even Big Data) through a variety of packages such as pbdr.  It can also be used with qualitative or social science data.  It can be used to create maps.  It can be used with LaTex (via, for example, Sweave) and websites (via, for example, shiny) so your analysis can be directly embedded in your output files.  This can be very convenient and reduce errors as your data processes update or your datasets change based on new information.
R does some fun things too, like:

How do you learn it?

R is somewhat difficult to learn, though there are extensive online resources the helps the process. Resources include:
  • The R-help mailing list.  A great resource, but use with caution–google first!  Someone has probably asked your question already (especially in the beginning).
  • A collection of R blogs.  Great for keeping up with new work in the area and getting a scan of what’s out there.
  • Blogs for starting off with R, for example or resource lists.
  • Blogs for newer R users, for example, or this, or many others.
  • R FAQ.  Useful, but not the most easily accessible document when you’re first starting.
  • The R Conference.  An intense group, but a lot of fun and very informative.

How long has the tool been around? Who authored it?

R is a free open-source statistical programming software (part of the GNU Project) descendant from S that came out of Bell Labs (now Lucent Technologies) by John Chambers and colleagues. 

Do you think it’ll be around in 5 years?

R is widely used and established–it is highly unlikely that it will disappear anytime soon.

Recommendation

I would (and have!) definitely recommend R to a friend.  I’d like to do something more physical than visual for my final data story, but I plan to use R for the initial data exploration and cleaning…and it’s possible I’ll get so sucked in to that work that I’ll end up staying the visualization space.

Examples of data stories that used this tool

A PDF of R and Data Mining: Examples and Case Studies can be found here or online here.

Contributors to this Review

  • Laura Perovich
  • Madison Noteware

 


Infogr.am

June 30, 2015

Infogr.am is a website that makes creating infographics much easier. The website transforms spreadsheets from XLS and CSV into interactive graphics. You can sign-up and it’s free to start. Create professional charts, reports or maps in seconds. If you’re looking for a simple yet nice graphic that’s easy to understanding, then this is a great option.

Media Type/s: Infographic generator
Skills: Easy
Cost:          FREE basic account
                   $19/month Pro
                   $67/month Business
                   Contact for a customized price for enterprises (with an annual contract)
                   Additional Educational & Non-profit special pricing
Open Source: Yes
Recommended: Yes
Visit: Infogr.am

Screenshots

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 10.01.48 PM Screen Shot 2015-07-02 at 1.58.50 PM

Screen Shot 2015-07-02 at 1.58.58 PM Screen Shot 2015-07-02 at 1.58.44 PMStarting a project

What is the tool designed to do? Who is it designed for?

The online tool creates infographics, charts and maps.

For infographics, users can choose from eleven different preset layouts/color schemes. Charts, graphs, maps, videos, pictures, and text can be put into the infographic. You can directly input data into some of the charts and graphs, and it automatically generates visualizations.

The tool is not meant for in-depth stories. However, the generated infographics could be useful as a part or a prin-depth an in depth story or to compare stories. It’s a great asset to have in any project.

Infogr.am basic program features 30 interactive chart types to choose. Explore the “Discover Infographics” section to find inspiration for the best way to express your data. It’s a great way to bring your data to life without hassle or confusion.

The infographics is also interactive and responsive to real-time data. The infographics are easy to download (not possible with the basic account) and embed into other websites.

With charts, users can simply click on the option and customize their chart as they want. Users can choose from close to 40 types of charts. They have also updated the settings. The updated settings allow you to change the look and design of the graph by simply just clicking on the video on the right side of the screen.

With the maps option, the free version of the website allows you to create a visualization either on a global map or on a map of the United States. Data can be edited on from the menu on the right side. It also allows you to add text, picture, video and other charts along with your map.

How do you learn it?

The tool is pretty easy to use which is the best part. Infogr.am is designed to require no programming or design skills. Anyone can use this product. The tool uses a simple drag-and-drop interface. There is a FAQ section as well as a getting started video. You can also watch the video tutorial.

I would recommend playing with the different features on your own. The tools do not have much of a learning curve. If you have a clear vision of what you want to put into your infographic, you don’t need too many skills because I think honing in exactly what you want is the hardest part. Decoding which data goes where though is definitely a much-needed skill.

The Infogr.am site makes charts in three simples steps:

1. Choose a template
2. Visualize your data: add charts, maps, videos, images, icons and more
3. Publish & share

 Like the creators said, it’s pretty limited, so I wouldn’t attempt any huge projects with it. For instance, if you wanted to embed a map, there are only two maps to choose from: a US and a world map. You can’t change the values of anything on the map; I’m not really sure what point they would serve unless you wanted to put a basic map into your infographic. All the limitations though make the program pretty easy to master.

Additionally, you can explore Infogr.am’s API documentation. It is available in REST, PHP, Java & Ruby.

If you are having any trouble with the site, Infogr.am also has a live support button at the bottom of the page.

Here are some great Youtube links and articles to help you achieve the best infographic:

http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/how-to-create-infographics-using-infogr-am/

http://www.guidingtech.com/12918/easily-create-interactive-inforgraphics-infogram/

http://lifehacker.com/5992991/infogram-generates-beautiful-infographics-from-custom-data

How long has the tool been around? Who authored it?

Infogr.am was founded in February 2012 by Infogr.am’s CEO Uldis Leiterts. Other founders include Alise Semjonova & Raimonds Kaze. The company is based in Riga, Latvia & San Francisco, California.

Do you think it’ll be around in 5 years?

Infogr.am will likely be around in 5 years. The Infogr.am blog remains up to date and is likely to continue to make updates. They’re also active on Twitter. 

Infogr.am was acquired recently by Visualoop for €1.9M. Point Nine Capital & Connect Ventures as the primary investors in 2014.

It has been awarded:

  • Gold- Information is Beautiful Awards
  • Best Startup Overall- TNW Amsterdam
  • Top innovator- DeveloperWeek San Francisco

Infogr.am is featured on Euronews, El Confidencial, Transparency International, University of Cambridge, The Next Web & The Huffington Post.

Recommendation

I would recommend this tool if they’re willing to experiment with the program and cope with its limitations. It’s super quick and easy. Also a great way to make your data visualization project/storty stand out with little effort.

Examples of data stories that used this tool

Featured infographics:

Contributors to this Review

  • Vishakha Mathur
  • Claire Nobles
  • Madison Noteware
  • Marta L. Rodríguez
  • Amanda Best

Trifacta Wrangler

March 15, 2016

Trifacta Wrangler is a tool for data cleaning and reshaping. It is new, free, and superior to any of the other alternatives in the market. It has a built-in tutorial to make the data cleaning process easier. Its most notable feature is a smart suggestion system that allows the user to experiment with the data before making permanent changes.

Media Type/s: tool for data cleaning.

Skills: It is not intuitive. It has a very helpful built-in tutorial.

Cost: Free! Open Source: Yes

Recommended: Yes

Visit: Trifacta Wrangler Screenshots

 

 

SUGGESTIONS  TRANSFORMER

 

What is the tool designed to do? Who is it designed for?  

Trifacta is a tool designed to clean and format data to then do analysis and visualizations in other softwares such as Tableau. Trifacta simplifies the cleaning task, creating a visual summary of the data set, which the user can easily manipulate. It works with a process called Predictive Transformation, which allows the user to interact with the data and find the best ways to transform it. The app must be installed in your desktop but needs Internet connection to run. Once it is installed, you can work with the first 500kb of input data as a sample, and you can also choose other kind of sample such as a random sample. The tool supports a variety of formats- XLS, XLSC, CSV, TSV, JSON, log files, and text files. There are also options for the output- CSV, JSON, OR TDE (Tableau Data Engine). Trifacta tries to understand the data on its own; it categorizes columns by data type and tells you what kind of data you have in them (e.g. text, numeric, binary, dates, etc).

The main page is called the transformer and is where you will transform your messy data into clean data. Trifacta will write scripts for the changes you make and allow you to undo them. There is also an histogram at the top of each column, which displays a summary visualization of the data. You can hover over the histogram to see the values. The transformer editor at the bottom of the page helps you create and edit transforms with different codes. This may be tricky, and you might want to learn the Trifacta language before you give it a try. This might sound overwhelming, but the good thing is that Trifacta has a built-in tutorial for newbies. When you open the application for the first time, helpful tips will pop up and take you through the different steps to clean data. While in Open Refine you would have to manually create facets or create transforms to filter and clean information, in Trifacta you can just click the column bar you want to clean and the tool offers a series of suggestions of what you can do with that data.

 

Trifacta is an extension of Data Wrangler, another data cleaning tool launched in 2011. The new tool has more features and works faster. The other alternative out there is OpenRefine. I have worked with OpenRefine and I find it very helpful but I like Trifacta better because it makes the whole process of cleaning the data smooth and painless.  The tool offers a smart suggestion system called Predictive Transformation that generates a series of suggestions based on the selection you make. For example, if you have a data set with a column for locations and you want to filter it so it just shows the rows with NY as a location, you can select a column bar in the histogram associated to New York as a location and Trifacta comes up with a series of suggestions. These suggestion cards ask you if you would like to keep all the rows that have NY as a state, delete all the rows that have NY as a state, etc. You can select one and it quickly applies to your data. Just like OpenRefine, you can also split data, creative an aggregation and other basic cleansing methods, but in a more interactive way. You can view the distribution of data values in the histograms in the Transformer Grid, that means you can see the value of data directly. If you want to view it in a more detailed way, you can also view it in Column Details or Job Result. The mismatched data and the blank data can also be viewed by color. By clicking the color bar, you can easily edit the dataset through suggestions and modify. Trifacta is designed for Tableau (it has the option to export work as TDE) users but it is aimed at anyone who works with data in spreadsheets and visualization tools. Trifacta is available to download both for PC and MAC. During the process of registering it,  it required the Account Verification Code which will send to you email. This confirmation email with registration code may in your promotion of Inbox, instead of primary inbox mail.

 

How do you learn it? Trifacta’s built-in tutorial is hands-on and the best way to learn it. By clicking the Users’ Preference Menu, you can find “Support Portal” and “Tutorial Videos” that can easily link to the Trifacta Support page. You can also watch this quick Youtube tutorial (updated) to get an idea of how it looks and works, here is another tutorial video about  Trifacta Telco 360 Demo and also this step-by-step tutorial, which includes two sample datasets to practice with. There is also a help webpage on the tool’s site with essential information and tutorials.

 

How long has the tool been around? Who authored it? Trifacta was founded by Jeff Heer, Joe Hellerstein, and Sean Kandel in 2012. Its headquarters are in San Francisco, California, but it has offices in Palo Alto, Boston, Berlin, and London. Here is Youtube video to introduce the founders of Trifacta. Do you think it’ll be around in 5 years? I think Trifacta will stick around. It is in my opinion the best alternative for data wrangling out there. It is free, so cost is not an issue for its users. Costumers include big companies such as GoPro, Pepsi, and Linkedin. And it has been recognized as the leader in end user data preparation in Dresner Advisory Services’ second annual End User Data Preparation Market Study. Recommendation I would recommend learning the Trifacta language, which you can use to design operations for the tool to perform on your data. Examples of data stories that used this tool Trifacta is the choice of many large organizations. In its website, Trifacta has different videos explaining how these clients use the tool. These companies use Trifacta to understand their data and use that to solve business challenges.

  • This is a (long) video of how GoPro uses the tool.
  • This is how PepsiCo uses it.

 

Data Wrangling: Journalists use Trifacta Fraud Detection Analytics to identify insider fraud based on the news data. Here is an example of Youtube Video about it. based their stories.

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Contributors to this Review

  • Mercy Benzaquen
  • Jinglin Li
  • Xiangqiong Liu

Knight StoryMaps

March 20, 2016

Knight StoryMaps is an immersive tool that allows storytellers to create seamlessly interactive map based visualizations while combining other visual media from external sources from the web and much, much more.

Media Type/s: Maps, photos, videos, text and audio
Skills: Easy. Only a few basic instructions to follow
Cost: Free
Open Source: Yes
Recommended: Yes
Visit: Knight StoryMaps

 

Screenshots

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What is the tool designed to do? Who is it designed for?

Knight StoryMaps is data visualization tool that helps anyone tell their stories through various media, including maps, photos and video and text. The StoryMaps design offers two distinct features for its users, which are Gigapixel and SnapMap. Gigapixel is a storytelling tool using essentially any uploaded image file. SnapMap allows the user to create a StoryMap, a platform allowing users to place their 20 most recent geo-tagged Instagram posts on a map visualization.

For journalists, StoryMaps provides a tool for them to write and publish news stories side-by-side with different multimedia.

Best of all, the process is super simple, and it all starts with any digitized map.

To begin, just drop a “pin” on a specific part of a selected map. With this pin, you can add specific information related to that geographic location. When any event takes place that a user wants to include in a story, they can link that pin to a specific online news story. Maybe there’s a collection important landmarks in different geographical locations, a user can place a pin for each landmark and link it to a photo, audio recording or even a virtual video tour. Now users can move from one pin to the next, especially helpful if the story has a set narrative or timeline. Add captions to the pins to write explain certain visualizations, if needed. Snapmap, a part of Knight Maps, can quickly create a map with the user’s 20 most recent geo-tagged Instagram photos. It’s ideal for any story that spans multiple periods of time and locations. All it takes is moving from one pin to the next.

 

How do you learn it?

It’s incredibly easy to learn, and there are step-by-step instructions to help users along the way.The interface is user friendly and intuitive. First-time users can dig into their projects with little to no prior knowledge in web design, and within minutes, they can have a detailed story going.

To start a project, users get two options: start with a Storymap, or start with an image from Gigapixel. Whichever is chosen, that becomes the ‘anchor’ of the story. With the map, just pick a starting location, pin it and add media. Where users decide to pin can be as general as an entire continent or as specific as the name of a street. These pinned locations become a ‘slide’, much like a PowerPoint slide. Slides can be added or removed as needed. Now a user can move to the next location for pinning, add a Youtube video, for example, and that’s another slide. Slides can be customized by color and background as desired.

Users also have a preview option to get constant feedback on what a finished project might look like. There are support links throughout and the help section is very detailed.

 

How long has the tool been around? Who authored it?

Northwestern University Knight Lab has run this tool since 2013.

Do you think it’ll be around in 5 years?

I think that it will be around in 5 years, as long as it continues making improvements and adding new features. As of now, it is easy to use and learn, but it’s rather simplistic in nature. If they keep it easy to use but make the necessary added improvements, I think it will be very popular in 5 years. Their Gigapixel is a bit harder to use because it requires the use of other software like Photoshop. For this reason, they may have to change Gigapixel at a faster rate than SnapMap, which is far simpler.

Recommendation

I recommend Knight StoryMaps as a interactive way to capture ones travels as digital storytelling. If you have a story that spans over various locations in any time period, this medium is just for you. This site is easy for all to acquire. It creates a sequence of presentation slides that animate the map from one location to the next including header text and explanatory text.

Knight StoryMaps is a great tool to really help visualize a story, which can really make a difference in the power and impact the story has. the ease of use is fantastic and the things you can create are honestly very cool. I like Knight Story Maps so much in fact that I plan on somehow incorporating it into my next project because most of my information is geographically based and adding in links other helpful information will make the final product both visually and mentally stimulating.

Examples of data stories that used this tool

Contributors to this Review

 


PhotoSphere for Google Streetview

March 20, 2016

Photo Sphere is an extension of the Google Streetview App that allows users to publish their own 360º street view images to Google Streetview. This a really great tool for letting Google users see the world while also building their profile with the places they have been.

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Media Type: Pictures

Skills: Extremely easy and user friendly

Costs: Free to download the app and create a Google account but they recommend that you buy their Ricoh Theta S camera for $349

Recommended: Yes

Visit: https://www.google.com/maps/streetview/publish/

What is this tool designed for? Who is this for?

This tool is designed to let people take their own 360º images and contribute them to their own Google Streetview profiles. It can work with your iPhone or personal camera but they recommend you buy the Ricoh Theta S for the best quality pictures. This tool allows people to take their personal photos to the next level while also providing an interactive portfolio for their work that others can see. I would say that this app is designed for everyone but the people that are probably going to get the most out of it are professional photographers/photo journalists. It’s extremely user friendly, like most Google Apps are, so anyone with the app can easily explore their world right from their phone. When it comes to actually posting Photospheres, professional photographers definitely produce the best images. The Ricoh Theta camera looks easy enough to use but it is a lot of money and I can only imagine that people who are really serious about photography would purchase it.

How Do You Learn It?

You are provided with all the instructions you need just by downloading the app. It is extremely user friendly and instructions pop along the screen to guide you the first time you use it. The actual act of making the Photosphere with your own iPhone is extremely easy and even fun and the quality of the pictures is amazing. They also have step-by-step instructions if you want to try and use your own DSLR camera to make a Photosphere.

How Long Has This Tool Been Around? Who authored it?

This tool was created by Google and it was most recently updated this month.

Do you think this tool will be around in five years?

I think this tool will be around five years from now. The camera technology might have even increased in that time for both the Ricoh Theta as well as for the iPhone which would only be beneficial for the tool. If the iPhone camera advances it would be easier for the average person to post high quality photo spheres without buying an extra camera. I don’t see Google Streetview ever going away so I think Photosphere is here to stay.

Recommendation

I would recommend the Photosphere tool to anyone. The Google Streetview app alone is a great tool because it allows access to HD, 360º images that are extremely unique to the app. The Photosphere element is just a great way to take pictures. For the average person, it can act as another social media platform where you can post your personal photosphere for you friends to see.The camera provided in the app produces high quality images and I would say you only need to buy an alternative camera if you are really serious about photography.  For photo journalists, especially travel journalists, this a great tool for adding an interactive element to your work. People can go to your profile and see where you’ve been and feel like they’re actually there. Photosphere could take travel photography to the next level and I think it’s a great tool.

 


Kuler tool review

March 25, 2017

Kuler is a color selection tool of different color themes that users of Adobe Illustrator can use for free by downloading to their own Adobe program. You can even create your own color themes and upload them for others to use.

Instructions on how to create your own color themes 

Media Type/s: Color selection Skills: Easy, just join the Kuler site and start creating or downloading color themes Cost: Free, because it is an addition to your Adobe account and programs Open Source: Yes Recommended: Yes Visit: Kuler

Screenshots

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What is the tool designed to do? Who is it designed for?

Kuler is designed as a color wheel with five different colors to create one theme. In the first image above, there is the color wheel with a set theme. Each of the white “cones” within the wheel shows which colors are selected. You can move these white cones to select a different set of colors in a preset theme. The four colored bars below the wheel show the color themes and have white circles that can be moved as another way to change the color themes of the wheel.

The second image above, shows the preset themes by name such as “Monochromatic.” Each color theme has a different amount of white cones to select either similar colors or select different colors, depending on which theme you choose.

The gray bar below these top images shows the specific number code of Reds, Greens, Blues, and the HEX color codes.

How do you learn it?

Kuler is very easy to experiment with and figure out. It’s kind of like in art class, when you were learning about the color wheel with a cardboard wheel; this one is just digital and comes with preset color themes, so you’ll have more fun. Just click on the different preset color themes in the drop-down box and play around with the white cones within the color wheel and the bars below.

At the top of the screen, next to Create, click Explore to see other Adobe users’ saved color themes. To create your own, you need to have an Adobe account.

How long has the tool been around? Who authored it?

Adobe Kuler was created around 2006, but is now called Abobe Color as of 2014. The program was created by Adobe Systems.

Do you think it’ll be around in 5 years?

Yes, it has gone through a name change but has survived ten years. It’s an easy system to add color themes to your projects, so I think the demand is high for a simple tool such as this to be used among new designers or those that prefer the simple format.

Recommendation

The program is easy to use and understand. I’m terrible with design and design programs, but even I was able to figure this tool out within a few minutes of experimenting with it. I recommend this to anyone that needs a fast tool for color themes.

Examples of data stories that used this tool

Contributors to this Review

  • Melody Keilig

 


Coblis

March 27, 2017

Coblis is a tool that simulates color blindness. For those who suffer from color blindness, it is difficult to discern the actual colors of things in our everyday lives (i.e. traffic signals).

Media Type/s: .jpeg, .png
Skills: Easy – Follow the instructions provided by the site
Cost: FREE
Open Source: No
Recommended: Yes
Visit: Coblis

Screenshots

Coblis

What is the tool designed to do? Who is it designed for?

Coblis is designed to help better understand the vision of a colorblind individual. You can insert your own photo into the website’s portal, and choose between a normal lens, an inverted lens and no lens. Combining the lenses with monochromatic and dichromatic views focusing on red-blind, blue-blind and green-blind, the photo will change color and the experience will show the differences in vision of people with lack of rods and cones, suffering from a color blindness handicap.

Coblis is a very user-friendly tool, and designed for the general public, and can be applied to any specific profession.

How do you learn it?

The site provides step-by-step instructions on how to properly upload an image to their simulator portal, and play with the settings in order to adjust to any particular color combination the user would like. It is extremely simple, and does not even require resizing of the original image. It won’t alter the original image in anyway and it is even possible to view the simulated photo in a new window, as to not redirect from the Coblis homepage.

How long has the tool been around? Who authored it?

The Color Blindness Simulator (Coblis) was launched in 2000-2001 by founder Matthew Wickline in conjunction with HCIRN.

Do you think it’ll be around in 5 years?

I believe this tool will still be around in 5 years, with maybe more updated features to the site as the internet undergoes large changes and updates, itself. This is just a fun tool for any user to experience something other than what they are used to, and it is is not used for commercial purposes, which means the likelihood of it remaining within the next 5 years is highly likely.

Data Stories:

  • https://www.tableau.com/about/blog/2016/4/examining-data-viz-rules-dont-use-red-green-together-53463
  • http://www.colorblindcheck.com/
  • http://www.colour-blindness.com/general/prevalence/

Recommendation

I definitely recommend that everyone gives this tool a shot! It was pretty cool to see a personal image of mine, altered, and how someone who is, say, red-blind, would see my image. A few close friends and family members of mine are diagnosed as color blind, so it was pretty awesome to see things through their eyes.

  • Alexandra Venancio