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22 free tools for data visualization and analysis

Sharon Machlis | Jan. 3, 2012
There are many tools around to help turn data into graphics, but they can carry hefty price tags.

VIDI

What it does: Although VIDI's website bills this as a tool for the Drupal content management system, graphics created by the site's visualization wizard can be used on any HTML page -- no Drupal required.

Upload your data, select a visualization type, do a bit of customization selection, and your chart, timeline or map is ready to use via auto-generated embed code (using an iframe, not JavaScript or Flash).

What's cool: This is about as easy as Many Eyes -- with more mapping options and no need to make your visualization and data set public on its website. There are quick screencasts explaining each visualization type and several different color customization options. And the file-size limit of 30MB is six times larger than Many Eyes' 5MB maximum.

Drawbacks: Oddly, the visualization wizard was a lot easier to use than the embed code -- my embedded iframe didn't display while trying to preview it on the VIDI website; I needed to save the visualization and go to the "My VIDI" page to get embed code that actually worked. Also, as with any cloud service, if you're using this for Web publishing, you'll want to feel confident that the host's servers can handle your traffic and will be available longer than your need to display the data.

Skill level: Beginner.

Runs on: Any Web browser.

Learn more: The VIDI home page features a link to an 11-minute video tutorial.

It took me less than five minutes to create a sample: a map of earthquakes of 7.0 magnitude or more since Jan. 1, 2000.

Zoho Reports

What it does: One of the more traditional corporate-focused business analytics offerings in this group, Zoho Reports can take data from various file formats or directly from a database and turn it into charts, tables and pivot tables -- formats familiar to most spreadsheet users.

What's cool: You can schedule data imports from sources on the Web. Data can be queried using SQL and can be turned into visualizations, and the service is set up for Web publishing and sharing (although if it's accessed by more than two users, you will need a paid account).

Drawbacks: Visualization options are fairly basic and limited. Interacting live with the Web-based data can be sluggish at times. Data files are limited to 10MB. I found the navigation confusing at times -- for example, after I saved a copy of a sample database, I was told it was in the folder "My reports," yet I had a hard time finding that.

Skill level: Advanced beginner.

Runs on: Any Web browser.

Learn more: There are video demos and samples on Zoho's website.

 

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