Swivel Fizzles Google Pops

Swivel has been in the news lately--it’s "YouTube for data!"(tm). Michael Arrington, whose blog TechCrunch is the chronicle of Web 2.0, wrote a slavering piece.

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.

There is a big difference between marketing and delivery. The initial views of the site are discouraging. They encourage that great bug-a-boo of analytics, confounding correlation with causation. Having a bunch of data series up and generating correlations is not a recipe for insight. (Equally annoying are the persistent comments reminding people of this).

Even so, we should applaud the Swivel team for implementing a platform for sharing data. However, the success or mediocrity of Swivel may ultimately lie in the hands of the users. The early returns don’t look promising. Here are a few examples from the current state of Swivel analysis:

The most popular graphics to date relates wine sipping to violent crime. In fact, the top 24 most viewed graphs are  permutations of this silly correlation analysis. If it is meant in jest, lots of Swivel users didn’t get the memo. A graph showing wine consumption vs. violent crime elicited a laundry list of theories about why this "phenomena" occurs.

Wine and Crime

Here’s another graph that seems to maximize confusion. I read it that there was a lot of variety in ways to die back in the 70s, but in the mid-90s it was pretty much a crap-shoot. Maybe Swivel will challenge users to become better at conveying information--or it may validate crap like this.

Ways of Dying

Here’s what I like best about this one: it’s touted as a "great example of Swivel correlation meters." The concept of "correlations of ways of dying" is humorous (personally, I imagine I will partake in just one of these ways of dying).

Ways of Dying Correlation

More importantly, Swivel allows for easy sharing of independent data sets:

* A public place for interesting data sets. Searchable, tagged...for our mockups

* Easy tool to overlay related data sets

* Popularization of data analysisAll the Swivel hype drowns out two important developments in the future of web-based analytics.


Jon Udell on Google Spreadsheets and GFinance integration

PeterMe: Wherein I Finally Write About My Idea Conference-- Peter Me Fernanda Viegas - Democratizing Visualization. This might have been, for me, the single most exciting project discussed at IDEA (with the possible exception of StoryCorps). Fernanda gave a sneak peak at Many Eyes, a service soon to be released by IBM Research that allows people to visualize data -- either their own, or publicly accessible data. It also turns these visualizations into social artifacts -- people can comment on one another’s visualizations. There is so much potential for this -- my glib take on it is "It’s Youtube for Data Viz!"