Social Data Visualization Brought to You by Swivel and Many Eyes

There has been lot of buzz in the data junkie field about Swivel (a web site being described as "YouTube for Data") and Many Eyes (a similar but more academic offering from the IBM’s Visual Communication Lab).

Swivel hit the news a couple months back with a slavering piece by Michael Arrington, whose blog TechCrunch is the chronicle of Web 2.0. Arrington wrote:

Academic types are going to go nuts over this. I spent a summer in college running regression analysis models on economic data. Being able to simply upload data to Swivel and then begin to slice and dice the data would have saved a lot of time. ...And being able to compare our data to what others were doing in related fields could have yielded results that we would never have aimed for. Big companies, small companies, thinktanks and non-classified government organizations are going to be similarly dazzled.

That seemed to us a bit out of touch with the needs of real data users—I can’t imagine Economics professors thanking their lucky stars for an unverified, single dimension data set.

We received a number of e-mails asking us what we thought. Fortunately, Robert Kosara at Eager Eyes has done the thinking for us with a very comprehensive review of these two sites. Robert’s summary:

Swivel needs to tone down the hype and grow up. They are not YouTube, and data visualization isn’t nearly as sexy and mass marketable as video sharing. They can only live on the Digg crowd for so long, at some point they will need to appeal to more sophisticated customers that are actually willing to spend money. Those will see through their marketing buzz and will demand more capabilities. Playing with data is great, but it will only take them so far...

...One of [Many Eyes’] challenges will be to provide cutting-edge visualization tools in a way that people can actually use. Easier editing and better interoperability between their already large number of visualizations should make the service much more attractive. They should also present an idea where they are trying to go with this, if the site will exist for a longer time, or just disappear once IBM stops believing that anything can come of it.