IBM’s “Many Eyes”

IBM is returning to an industry leading position in software. One of the things that is helping in this revival is their commitment to research labs in various places around the world. The IBM Watson Research Center at Cambridge (Mass.) houses the CUE Group (“Collective User Experience”), which is exploring, among other themes, interactive visualization. They’ve developed a Java app called Many Eyes, which is available through IBM’s Alphaworks, a point of release for trial software (and well worth visiting regularly).

From the “about” page:

Many Eyes is a bet on the power of human visual intelligence to find patterns. Our goal is to “democratize” visualization and to enable a new social kind of data analysis…

All of us in CUE’s Visual Communication Lab are passionate about the potential of data visualization to spark insight. It is that magical moment we live for: an unwieldy, unyielding data set is transformed into an image on the screen, and suddenly the user can perceive an unexpected pattern. As visualization designers we have witnessed and experienced many of those wondrous sparks. But in recent years, we have become acutely aware that the visualizations and the sparks they generate, take on new value in a social setting. Visualization is a catalyst for discussion and collective insight about data.

You can see others’ data sets transformed into various charts and diagrams, and you can submit your own data and have it visualized. The resulting images are interactive and quite sophisticated. There are four basic types you can choose from:

bubblechart.pngthe bubble chart
which displays data as circles and is useful when values differ by several orders of magnitude

histogram.pngthe block histogram
which is essentially a bar chart where each item in the set is drawn as a block so you can see the distribution of values

worldmap.pnga world map
where countries are coloured in proportion to an assigned variable

network.pngthe network diagram
which is an interactive set of connected items in which the structure betrays the relationship


At present, all your data will live on the IBM site and be public. Indeed, one critical aspect of the research is to see what the public makes of various visualized data sets in the discussion that can follow each visualization.

Even so, and depending on what you’re doing, this site could offer you useful functionalities when it comes to making your data live in the minds of your intended audience. It could easily be made a dynamic part of a presentation or of a website.

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