Archive for October, 2008


Mapping with GeoCommons

GeoCommons is a new data visualization service from FortiusOne, a business intelligence firm based in the Washington DC area with a focus on mapping applications for the government market. GeoCommons operates two parallel services, Finder! and Maker!.

Finder! is a repository of user-contributed data sources. Very similar to infochimps, except that GeoCommons data tables must be contributed as CSV, with either lat/long or region columns.

Maker! takes tables stored in Finder! and produces a map visualization using Flash and imagery from Google Maps. It’s quite easy to use, and the maps produced by Maker are very attractive. Unfortunately the maps are currently not accessible outside the GeoCommons environment: there are no image or PDF output options, and the Flash maps cannot be embedded into external pages.

Maker! is strong tool for the final step of producing geographic visualizations, with mapping capabilities substantially ahead of what Many Eyes or Swivel offer today. I don’t yet classify GeoCommons as either collaborative (there’s no sharing or annotation) or analytical (no manipulation of data within the system).

GeoCommons is a strong new entrant to the field. The business model is unclear, but since FortiusOne has received a couple of rounds of funding since 2005 and presumably has a solid revenue stream from services there’s reason to hope that the GeoCommons product will have the opportunity to develop further.

See also PolicyMap, operated by the non-profit TRF based in Philadelphia. PolicyMap has a richer set of visualization options than GeoCommons, but there’s no facility for user-contributed content.


Microsoft joins the fray

I wasn’t expecting Microsoft to get into the online data visualization game before Google, but here they are. Microsoft Research has launched DataDepot, “a site that lets you track, analyze, and share trend lines”. It looks like the development team has populated the site with plenty of initial datasets.

From a very quick first glance:

  • Charts are rendered using SilverLight.
  • You can embed charts via iframes.
  • DataDepot refers to each chart as a “track”. There are also “combined tracks” which seem to be overlays of multiple charts with the same Y axis.
  • Quality of the visualizations is so-so. Definitely superior to the Flash output from iCharts, but not as nice as Many Eyes or Swivel. Pointless shaded backgrounds. Bad color selection. The thumbnail image generated for the DataDepot home page is unintelligible.
  • Data can be extracted from the site in an XML format.

(via Matt Hurst’s Data Mining blog.)