Archive for May, 2009

29
May
09

Timetric: new time-series data visualization service

Promising new entrant in the online data visualization field: Timetric, developed by a small start-up team in the UK.

The current repository of almost 100,000 series is skewed heavily towards UK economic data sources. User can contribute additional data series, but the supported import format is currently fairly restrictive; Timetric cannot interpret and convert files that do not correspond to their specification.

Data series can also be accessed as RSS feeds, though this seems to be just an XML version of the tabular data. Data series acquired from external URLs do not appear to be “active”, there’s no apparent way to refresh the series from the source.

Charts are in Flash. I’m not a big fan of Flash, but the Timetric presentation is quite polished. HTML embedding is supported. There are also nice PNG sparklines, likewise embeddable.

Unique to Timetric is their support for data manipulation within the system: you can combine two or more existing series using an Excel-like syntax for specifying calculations.

Timetric is off to an impressive start. They’re already publishing two blogs and they are twittering. I see their biggest challenge as they same one that faces Swivel, Many Eyes and others: what’s the business model?

26
May
09

Wolfram Alpha has a long way to go

I expressed some excitement earlier about the forthcoming release of the Wolfram Alpha “computational knowledge engine”. Alpha went live over a week ago; here are my impressions so far.

Wolfram|Alpha’s long-term goal is to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone.

Alpha is still a long way short of achieving this goal of making knowledge “computable” and “accessible to everyone”. In its current form, Alpha gives answers, but provides no access to the underlying data or any way to explore further.

Let’s use a sample query: united states gdp

For results, Alpha provides a recent (2007) GDP figure and a chart showing the annual trend since 1970.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to download the data table behind the chart, which is to say, the data is not “accessible to everyone”. Apparently “computable” only refers to the ability of the Mathematica engine (which powers Alpha) to do computation, but the service does not help users to do further computation of their own. There is a promising “Live Mathematica” link on every results page, but this is worthless: the notebook that is presented in Mathematica is not live at all, there was no way to do further local computation on the data. The chart displayed by Alpha was produced by Mathematica running on their server, but there are no options to adjust the chart format, and since you can’t get the data table you can’t create your own chart.

The obvious next step would be to look for the source data from the original source. But the “Source information” link gives only a list of references, with no links to actual data.

alphasource.png

These limitations make Alpha, for now, fairly useless for real research and investigation. But it’s a promising start. There’s a wealth of factual information in the repository and the search-like user interface is not intimidating. I look forward to future releases that might bring some of Wolfram’s goals truly within reach.