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From the Townsend Letter
June 2008


Web Page Potpourri
by Marjorie Roswell

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If you have data that you would like to share on your website, consider using some of these resources:

Treemaps are easy to understand once you see them, but most people are an unfamiliar with this powerful data visualization technique. I think of treemaps as "pie charts on (natural) steroids." Rather than slices, they present an array of colored boxes inside boxes. The size of the box represents a value, and color is used to display either numbers or categories. I've used treemaps to display US budget data in powerful ways. They also come in handy to show demographics of residents at chronic hospitals, for instance. Any medium-to-large dataset with a natural hierarchy such as directories and subdirectories, agencies and line items, or even a made-up hierarchy, such as "first group into men and women, and then group into age groups" is a good candidate for a treemap.
You may download free treemap software by the original authors, at the University of Maryland Human Computer Interaction Lab at the URL above. It uses Java, so should run on almost any operating system.


I created a video (not high production quality) that briefly demonstrates an interactive treemap. The video shows the relative budget of the national sustainable farming information center program called Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA), compared with other far more well-funded programs. (And which program did Congress zero out? Sustainable farming information, of course.)

Many Eyes
"Shared visualization and discovery."
IBM's Many Eyes offers a rich set of free tools, including zoomable maps of the world and the US, standard line graphs, stacked line graphs, and line graphs for categories (which can be hierarchical); bar charts, block histograms, bubble charts, and matrix charts; scatterplots and network diagrams; pie charts, treemaps, word clouds. This is a wonderful tool. Certainly it's the cheapest way to put interactive treemaps online.

Treemaps on the Web
Treemapping gets much more expensive (and much more powerful) with these commercial programs.

Swivel is a free service enabling you to easily create bar charts, scatter plots, line graphs, and pie charts. Consider becoming an "Official Source" of data. There is also a Swivel toolbar for Excel.

Google Chart
Google offers a free charting service. If you master the Application Program Interface (API), you can embed a chart on your page by linking to a URL. Documentation is above.


Slideshow Tools
There are innumerable resources online for sharing slideshows on the Web. Good search terms to use include "slideshow," "slide show," and "gallery."

Image Optimizers
Do not be afraid to draw your own graphics and pay an artist to illustrate them for you. Sometimes you'll get a far better result using pen and paper than trying to fit klutzy graphic tools into the picture you have in mind. You can always scan the resulting image at your local copy shop. Just be aware that you may need to optimize your resulting image file size. PicResize actually changes the dimensions of your image (making a 400x200 pixel image into 100x50 pixels, for instance). The other two will keep your image the same dimensions, but will reduce the download size. Do not upload your scanned graphics without checking on the size of your graphic: the smaller, the better.

If you've got a real budget and sufficient technical support, you'll get fine web graphics using PopChart software.

SIMILE is MIT's "Studies In Media & Information Literacy Education" program. They offer free data visualization tools that may require the brief help of a skilled web developer to implement.

Inxight offers some wonderful data visualization resources. They are very expensive ($50k+), and for that reason, I've never had the chance to use them. I just admire from a distance.

For $200, you can pick up a copy of XCelsius to get nice interactive graphics on your website.

Periodic Table of Visual Literacy
Immerse your mind in this table and learn about a wide variety of data visualization methods.

Edward Tufte
The Visual Display of Quantitative Information
If you're at all serious about presenting data – on the web, or on paper, or even on the side of your van, make sure to read Edward Tufte's book: The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. If you're inspired by this book, continue to his other books, including Envisioning Information, Visual Explanations, and Data Analysis for Politics and Policy. Consider taking one of his one-day seminars. (The course fee includes payment for four of his most popular books.)


Marjorie Roswell is a web developer and the founder of Roswell Infographics.



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