Overview of Free and Friendly Tools for Data Visualization

11 December 2012
By Eugene Chmykhun, QA Engineer

To continue the Visualization topic, which recently started, I’d like to share a small overview of useful visualization tools. Frankly speaking there are a huge amount of different tools. Some tools are more scientific, some are specialized for business purposes, some are expensive and the others are free. In this overview I’m going to tell you about the tools for users who want to save time and money by using free tools with simple and clear UIs.

So let’s start with a very powerful and pretty simple tool named Tableau Public.

Tableau is based on breakthrough technology from Stanford University that lets you drag & drop to analyze data rapidly and fluidly, connect to data in a few clicks, then visualize and create interactive dashboards in an instant. Tableau Public is a web-based, publicly accessible version of Tableau Desktop which enables you to create interactive visualizations and embed them into your website, publish them on the Tableau Public Gallery or share within the Tableau Public community. Please note, the created visualizations cannot be saved locally, that is the ‘public’ essence of this free tool.

Website: http://www.tableausoftware.com/
Cost: Tableau Public is free.
Cost for Tableau Desktop: £600/$999 Personal, £1200/$1999 Professional.

Our next tool is Many Eyes. It is a web application to build, share and discuss graphic representation of user uploaded data. All the visualizations on Many Eyes have an attached discussion forum. If you post a comment, your “view” is saved along with your comment so others can see what you’re seeing. Each of the created visualizations lets you select data for highlighting by clicking. Your selection will then be highlighted in a bright color, so that you can refer to them in your comments. In order to use the tool you only need to pass a simple and free registration process on the website to be able to upload your data sets and create interactive visualizations, and share and discuss them with others.

Website: http://www-958.ibm.com/software/data/cognos/manyeyes/
Cost: Free.

Visualize Free is a free visual analysis tool, providing the perfect solution for visually exploring and presenting data that standard office charting software cannot handle. You can easily upload your data or select from the available datasets. The process of creation is simple – just build an interactive visualization or dashboard with a drag and drop designer. Your datasets, visualizations and bookmarks can be shared with others. You can also embed your visualization into your blog or intranet site.

Website: http://visualizefree.com/
Cost: Free.

Now let’s take a look at a tool that creates word clouds by pasting or entering text into the application. The word clouds show, which words appear most frequently in the original text. Wordle is a word cloud generator that creates word clouds from text you either manually enter or draw from websites or news feeds to create a visually appealing word cloud, which can be customized and stylized to suit your needs. Fonts, layouts, and colors can be manipulated for different effects. The images you create with Wordle are yours to use however you like. You can print them out, or save them to the Wordle gallery to share with your friends.

Website: http://www.wordle.net/
Cost: Free

At the end of this entry I’d also like to share a tool for working with data, cleaning it up, reformatting it, or extending it with web services. Google Refine is a power tool for working with messy data, transforming it from one format into another and linking it to databases like Freebase. Refine features several built-in algorithms that find text items that are spelled differently but actually should be grouped together. There are also numerical options that offer quick and easy overviews of data distributions. This functionality can reveal anomalies that might be the result of data input errors. You’ll need to download and install Google Refine and then point your browser to http://127.0.0.1:3333/ to get started. Please note, you can’t do typical spreadsheet calculations with it.

Website: http://code.google.com/p/google-refine/
Cost: Free.

So that was an overview of simple and free tools for visualization which give the capability to create powerful visualizations with minimum efforts for free. Stay tuned for future publications on the topic of visualization.

During preparation of the article some materials from websites listed in the text were used.

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