Although visualization is hardly the most technologically challenging part of the data-analysis puzzle, it’s arguably the most important.
Storage, databases, query processing and algorithms are all extremely important — heck, visualization is next to nothing without them — but in a data-driven world where is obsessed with insights, they’re just the foundational layers. They are to big data what server and network configurations are to mobile-app development on platforms like Parse. If you’re going to find out new things from massive and highly complex data sets, or going to give new types of people the ability to analyze even simple data, the presentation of that data and the ability to create consumable presentations are critical.
With that in mind, here are six startups I’ve seen trying to fundamentally change the way that data is visualized. Some are highly complex under the covers, some are not and none are perfect, but they’re all doing their part to make us rethink what it means to look at data and make spreadsheets and static charts look like relics. (And this list is by no means exhaustive, so feel free to add your favorite visualization tools in the comments.)
The idea of network graphs isn’t new, but Ayasdi’s approach to it is. Under the covers, there’s an HBase data store, a technique called topographical data analysis and hundreds of machine learning algorithms to churn through complex data sets and determine the similarity among the data points. To the end user, though, there’s a map of the data set that looks a lot like a network graph (only it’s probably not network data) highlighting clusters of related data points that analysts might want to investigate further.
BeyondCore actually operates under the same basic premise as Ayasdi — show users the significant correlations so they don’t have to think of the queries that will uncover them — but it uses some different techniques to get there. It uses a different visualization method, too: BeyondCore sticks to standard charts, but actually offers the option of having an avatar talk users through the correlations the software has discovered.
ClearStory has a pretty unique product in the works — even if it’s keeping many details and all of its screenshots under lock and key until its formally launches. Essentially, though, it’s trying to tell stories via visualizations that display mashups of numerous data sources, update automatically when the source data changes, and invoke collaboration and social concepts. Here’s Co-founder and CEO Sharmila Mulligan explaining the idea behind ClearStory at Structure: Data in March.
Unlike so many data startups, Datahero isn’t trying to woo people fed up with business-intelligence software or the difficulties of getting insights from Hadoop data. Rather, it’s trying to let people with simple business or personal data make simple charts without ever having to enter an Excel function or worry too much about how their spreadsheets are formatted. Early on, Datahero’s visualizations are still pretty commonplace (bars, pies, plots, etc.), but it’s the ease of creating them that’s so unique.
Platfora has undertaken the ambitious task of trying to make analyzing mountains of data stored in Hadoop clusters as easy as analyzing their own Stripe data might be for developers using Datahero. It’s based on a foundation of Hadoop and massively parallel query processing, but is presented like an HTML5 version of current visualization golden boy Tableau that’s all about dragging, dropping, and visually slicing and dicing through data. The latter capability is actually critical in a big data world where there are likely more data points than you can ever digest at once.
Zoomdata is far from the only analytics company to support mobile devices, but it’s one of the few I know of (Roambi also comes to mind) designed primarily for them. Zoomdata connects to standard business data sources, but takes advantage of touch screens and the D3.js visualization project to offer up some visually interesting charts that are designed to be manipulated like an artist’s palette.
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