Abundant Data Visualization and Storytelling Tools

Aug 29, 2010

As some of you know, I’m fairly anti-PowerPoint.  Done well with engaging pictures and messaging, it can be a fabulous medium.  Used by most people, it is a grinding parade of bullet points, read-aloud slides, and missed interactive thought.  Presentations aren’t locked to a 11×8-1/2 inch format with a heading on top, disconnected bullet points, and canned charts.  But if you don’t know more is possible or your company bows down to PowerPoint, you may have been stuck.

Data visualization is not new and has been embraced by many companies around the cutting edge, but hasn’t reached the organizational presentation mainstream.  I’m meandering through many tools right now to find the right method for visualizing a complex series of research outcomes to a group of individuals.  Here are some visual metaphors and tools that might add to your working vocabulary:

  • Webspiration: Currently in a public beta under Mywebspiration.com, this tool strikes my current fancy among the many Concept Map tools.  I also like VUE and others, but I’ve been using Inspiration for two years and enjoy the interface.  This app takes it on the road for collaboration and integration into group process.  Very cool.  http://mywebspiration.com/
  • DebateGraph: I had missed this when CNN had embraced it to “locate” debate with visual graphs and metaphors and am fascinated by it.  http://debategraph.org/Stream.aspx?mID=1243
  • Prezi: Very visual storytelling with a very different set of metaphors than PowerPoint.  Imagine your presentation world as a GIGANTIC whiteboard and your presentation metaphor as a lens that can zoom in, pull back, and swirl around the board.  You can present it on the fly or automate your lens patterns.  http://prezi.com
  • Popplet: Popplet is in beta on the Internet and is cool to play with as a very cute concept map tool.  I enjoy it more on the iPad as Popplet Lite.  Very easy to use as a basic concept map with clean graphics and use of images that you can use to share ideas with others.  http://popplet.com/
  • Brainshark: One of my business-to-business sales friends swears by this.  You can “can” your presentation and have it present for you with private links.  http://presentation.brainshark.com/
  • TechSmith’s Camtasia: I adore Camtasia in how I can capture screen images, do call outs, etc., record my webcam, and package a full presentation with easy editing.  While I was traveling in China back in the Spring, I Camtasia’d my course introduction and even a daily pre-test with this tool.  For simple video editing, I find it very crisp and clean.  This isn’t free, but worth every penny (especially at the educator or student price, of course).  http://www.techsmith.com/camtasia.asp.
  • Soytuaire still charms me and made Time Magazine’s 50 best websites of 2010 in August.  It breaks the visual metaphor for Flash video in rolling sideways and allowing tactile interaction through your mouse to change the “flow.”  http://www.soytuaire.labuat.com
  • Gapminder: I’ve written on this many times, but I find most people don’t know you can have access to its tools via Google Docs as Motion Chart. Like many people, I found it through Hans Rosling’s 2006 TED presentation (link here and below.   http://www.gapminder.org/

  • TriVergence: And lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Dr. George Geis’ TriVergence.  I watched yet another group of executives drop their jaws when he used it this summer to show the timeline-based succession of acquisitions by Apple in the music business.  For a decade or so, he has been gathering data and visually mapping an amazing number of M&A deals in media, communications, and technology sectors into this user-friendly tool.  It isn’t as sexy as some of these above, but holds key data in a communication-friendly form.  http://www.trivergence.com/

I know this is just the tip of the iceberg.  I could go on at length (and may later) about tag clouds (e.g., visualizing the Twitter data streams on Twitscoop), word sculptures (e.g. Wordle, or more at the ), and other data visualization tools (e.g. more at IBM Visualization Lab…http://vizlab.nytimes.com/visualizations).  I’ll stop here for now, but please feel free to comment or email me at gigi [at] maremel.com with other suggestions and recommendations.

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