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5 Data Visualization Tools for the Web

Making Sense of the Data Flood



Image © Wolfram Alpha

Much has been said about the increasing role of data in business. While big data will be a valuable commodity in the world of IT, the human side of creating meaning from data will still be challenging. Here are five tools for presenting data for human consumption over the web.

Google Charts

As a company that has effectively put a full featured office suite on the web, it should be no surprise that Google has an offering for data visualization. Google Charts allows users to take simple Javascript snippets and embed it into their web page. Within this, you load Google chart libraries, list the data to be charted, and later specify a div tag to allow the chart to be displayed. Google Charts then handles the rest. The Google Chart library has many different chart types ranging from the more standard bar, line and scatters, to more exotic geo charts, gauges and bubbles. While Google Chart APIs are relatively simple to get started with, they also offer a wide range of options for the advanced user.


Visual.ly offers more than just a simple charting tool, it is a platform creating a marketplace for infographics. Infographics, and visual data storytelling have become a prevalent communication type on the web, and have become a particularly potent force in the world of digital marketing. Visual.ly offers tools for creating these infographics, but also serves as a platform to connect animators, designers and analysts with businesses that wish to create infographics. Because infographics often require more visual flair and complexity than simple data plotting, this platform allows a marketplace to form around this new communication medium.


Flot, now housed at Flotcharts.org, is a plotting package for jQuery, the popular web library. Flot uses the HTML5 Canvas, which is largely compatible with modern web browsers, but as with any HTML5 feature, compatibility issues can occur. The package is written entirely in Javascript, so for web developers that are already well versed in Javascript and JQuery, Flot can be a very powerful tool. The use of Flot code can also allow you greater control compared to constraints and performance of web APIs like that of Google Charts. Flot is only designed for more traditional plotting, line, point and bar charts.

Wolfram Alpha

Wolfram Alpha is a well known name in the world of data. Though it ostensibly looks like a search engine, it also has some powerful data visualization features. Not only does it offers ways to visualize data, but Wolfram Alpha maintains over 10 trillion pieces of data from primary sources, so if the data to be presented draws on public data, Wolfram Alpha may be a good option. The free version of Alpha allows for use of the computation engine and data, and displays results through a web interface. The company also offers a monthly subscription version which allows for more complex querying, and downloading visualizations locally, among other features.

Better World Flux

Better World Flux is a highly specific data visualization tool. It was created by an Australian company called SmartSalary, as a way to visualize important global indicators of progress in society. The tool includes large global data sets for indicators like peace index score, school enrollment, malaria incidences, and many, many others. The metrics are then plotted in a width chart form that can be moved across time, showing a moving visual picture of how the world population has been distributed across your chosen metrics. It is not a tool that allows for plotting of customized business data, but if you happen to wish to make a point about progress in society around one of many metrics, Better World Flux is a great tool. Graphs can be shared over social media or email.


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