If you’re running or starting a business that does anything online, you’ll know how important data is. There are huge data sets for just about everything these days, and we need tools to help us understand them.
The Big Data Explosion
Data is being generated and collected at an insane rate. And, that rate is only getting faster.
What’s more is we are relying more and more on data to make sense of the world. Individuals and companies are now so interconnected that we can’t hope to understand relationships between them without looking at data.
Raw data is difficult for humans to comprehend. This means we need processing tools to turn millions, maybe even billions of numbers into a form we can see and understand intuitively.
For businesses, this means getting information to your users in a way that’s engaging and keeps their eyes on the screen.
Here’s a list of big data visualization tools. I’ve split them into two categories, for non-developers and developers. The non-developer tools have nice graphical interfaces, while the developer tools require some programming and offer more flexibility.
Tools for non-developers
Tools for developers
- Google Chart
Let’s take a look at each one in detail.
Tableau is a software company that focuses on creating top data visualization software. It’s based in Seattle, Washington, and is viewed as one of the companies making the best online data visualization tools.
It’s noted as one of the first tools to give businesses the power to generate complex data visualizations – without the need for specialist IT support. Access to this kind of business intelligence is invaluable for any company, and Tableau is bringing it to the masses.
Offered as a SaaS (Software as a Service) application for
- Online (as a Cloud app)
The company offers great support, and the community is strong. You’ll be able to find a guide or tutorial for just about anything.
The downside (as with many similar products) is the cost. It’s free for students, but the cost can quickly skyrocket. Costs for medium business can reach hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.
Datawrapper is a tool targeting publishing firms and journalists. It has an impressive list of clients including:
- The Washington Post
- The Wall Street Journal
Like Tableau, you don’t need to write any code to get beautiful visualizations. Just upload your data and get back what you need. You can easily integrate your creations with your site and even use take advantage of local maps.
It’s a little more affordable that Tableau, and is now free for up to 10K chart views.
RAW Graphs claims to be the “missing link between spreadsheets and data visualization”. It’s a web app that offers a fairly easy-to-use copy and paste interface and sends out professional looking graphs. One of its biggest selling points is that it’s free. Completely free.
It also offers some other cool features like:
- Easy export to 3 formats or an embed code
- Compatible with Sketch, Adobe illustrator, and Inkscape
- No registration required
The app is designed with “designers and vis geeks in mind”, so you have a lot of flexibility. Also, despite being a web app, RAW doesn’t process any of your data – it’s all done by your web browser. This means you know your data is kept safe because you’re the only one that ever sees it.
Overall, RAW is great if you are looking for one of the most professional, free, open, customizable, and best data visualization tools.
Infogram is another big data visualization tool that doesn’t require much coding. A simple 3-step process lets you easily upload data, choose a template and even add your own images and videos.
It uses the ‘freemium’ business model, letting you try things out for free. After that, you’ll be paying around $9 a month to upgrade to premium. Some other features include team accounts for publishers and journalists, classroom accounts for teaching projects, and branded charts for businesses.
If you are tossing up which data visualization tool to use (as you are reading this, there is a good chance you are!), Plotly offers some great samples. This can give you an idea of what you can expect, and you can expect a lot.
Used by organizations as diverse as the U.S. Airforce and Google, there is surely something you’ll find useful. They have a user-friendly web tool which means no installation for you. One thing I really like is you can post graphs directly to social media for your friends to interact with and explore.
It’s possible to create interactive charts and collaborate with colleagues easily. Also for developers, there’s an API you can plug into for great customization and flexibility.
Another cool of Plotly is the ability to upload a chart, and its data, with just a static image. That means you can simply scan a chart and Plotly will figure out what it means and the data behind it. Awesome!
The library is fast enough to support large, real-time data sets to make your charts come to life. It also allows animation and even interaction.
Coders will be happy with the built-in components and plugin mechanisms. With these, you can create neat and reusable code for later projects.
Some of the main features of FusionCharts include:
- 90 chart styles
- 2D and 3D charts
- Input data in JSON or XML format
- Charts are rendered in HTML5, SVG, and VML
- Available in 120 countries
- Helpful tool-tip
- Zooming, scrolling, and panning through graphs
- Native jQuery integration
- 950+ maps
It’s not hard to see how they’ve managed to bag big clients such as Google, Microsoft, and Intel. It does cost money for commercial applications, starting at $149 for smaller deployments.
8. Google Chart
Anything with Google’s name stamped on it is probably going to be good. The Google Charts project tries to focus on ease-of-use for developers, and it certainly achieves this goal. The tools manage to strike a good balance between being simple and also giving developers the opportunity to get really stuck into the code.
VML support means users with older browsers aren’t left out, and everything is portable to iOS and Android. The most exciting thing, though, is that it’s a completely free project And, with Google backing it, you know it’s going to keep getting better.
Chart.js is a great open source big data graph visualization tool. I actually wrote a tutorial recently explaining how to use it on your own blog. It’s relatively small compared to some of the other projects on this list, but I love it.
The library itself is tiny, weighing in at only 11kilobytes. You can even make it smaller by removing any chart types you don’t need. The charts are all built on the client-side.
In that tiny package you get six chart types:
The library doesn’t have all of the bells and whistles that FusionCharts has. For example, the charts are rendered using HTML Canvas, so there is no interactivity available. But, it’s still a nice choice if you’re looking for something easy, and Chart.js free under the MIT license, so you don’t need to worry about hefty fees.
Not many tools can boast being used by 61 out of the world’s 100 biggest companies. HighCharts offers more interactivity than Chart.js and is more mobile friendly too.
It’s free for non-commercial use, and deployment licenses start at $390.
Using Them Effectively
Whichever tool you choose, you’ll need to make sure you know how to get the most out of it. You can either learn yourself or find a team that has experience and knows how to visualize big data in an effective way.