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Data visualization: Big Data's hot cousin

Clever coders make data fun and easy, as vendors add tools to catch up

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Tools of the visualization trade

In either case, Hosken says creating a vizualization of this sort requires many skills

“You need a combination of data mining and data analysis skills,” he says. Hosken is happy to work in Flash or code in Java and says the Rafael Javascript library for vector graphics is useful.

“It helps to have Statistics 101, or at least an appreciation of statistics, scripting ability,” he adds. And then there's the x-factor of being able to “use those tools to create something that takes advantage of human perception.”

Stefaner also has a diverse skillset. He worked in advertising, then studied cognitive science and interface design. Like Hosken he is entirely happy to write code when creating a visualization, and says his broad skills mean he is one of a small pool of people capable of creating advanced visualizations.

“There are only a handful of practitioners. A couple of years ago there were only one or two. Now there are perhaps ten or twenty.”

But more are coming, because the power of visualization has been noticed by software vendors. Microsoft, for example, has added PowerView to SQL Server 2012. Gartner has tracked the addition of similar tools to other enterprise suites, with a June 2011 paper titled Emerging Technology Analysis: Visualization-Based Data Discovery Tools identifying Tibco and SAS as leaders in the field along with newcomers Qlik Tech and Tableau. The paper predicts 30% compound annual growth in the field for five years and significant corporate adoption.

But that doesn't mean the game is up for bespoke visusalizers like Hosken and Stefaner, as Andrew Vande Moere says the field is already advancing beyond screens and into the real world.

“We have already used fashion and clothing that added information – we made a basketball jersey that included information about players. We can place information on objects – appliances could record electricity consumption.

“We can augment architecture with light or wind,” he says. “Information should enrich our physical world.” ®

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