Data Visualization With CartoDB

No matter where you live in Vancouver, odds are pretty good there’s a dog nearby with the name Charlie.

How do I know this random tidbit? It’s thanks to CartoDB, a (mostly) free cloud-based mapping tool. While browsing their online gallery, I came across a user-generated map of popular dog names in Vancouver, created using open source data.

The product concept is pretty simple: CartoDB will take geo-location data, along with other connected contextual data, from an Excel spreadsheet or CSV file; and then turn those pieces into an professional-looking, interactive map.

We recently used CartoDB for a client project at Stem, where we plotted reports of medical device problems (metal hip replacements) on a map of the United States. The map showed which devices were implanted, where, and what symptoms were reported. While the data set was admittedly simple, with the finished product we were able to demonstrate the geographic spread of the problem at hand.

The map creation process wasn’t difficult – at least with our KISS-level usage of the product. The work was conducted in three phases: data importing (selecting the CSV or XLS file from the local computer); georeferencing the data (a simple tool, converting addresses or “City, State” combinations into latitude & longitude); and then applying one of the visualization wizards to customize the display. A few labels were then added, leaving us with a final product that was sharable via a limited view-only public account, or embeddable as an iframe within a website.

With visuals and imagery becoming an increasingly powerful part of communication, it’s worth highlighting a tool like this. Firms often have this kind of geographic-friendly data with the potential to be anonymized, making CartoDB a very powerful tool in all sorts of law-related settings. Product liability reports like the ones our client used are an obvious example, but there are likely to be a host of others.

A free account will get you unlimited tables and up to 50MB of data; plenty for most projects. Premium plans (that allow for private maps) start at $29/month.

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