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Periodic Table of Visualization Methods – In a word, WOW!

Tool: Periodic Table of Visualization Methods

Time to Use: Less than 10 minutes

Purpose: Categorize and explore visualization methods

Description: Developed by Ralph Lengler and Martin Eppler at the University of Lugano in Switzerland, the Periodic Table of Visualization Methods is useful, fun, and thought-provoking. Lengler and Eppler have organized visualization methods into six categories:

  • Data Visualization
  • Information Visualization
  • Concept Visualization
  • Strategy Visualization
  • Metaphor Visualization
  • Compound Visualization

Within each category, they have compiled a library of visualization examples from tables and pie charts (under data visualization) to value chains and spray diagrams (under strategy visualization) – around 100 in all. Lengler and Eppler have mapped the examples to a semblance of a periodic table reminiscent of those explored in high school chemistry.

The chart itself, with its attractive layout is a site to behold. But the fun truly begins once you begin interacting with it. When rolled over, each cell pops up an example of the visualization method. For me, it has helped as a frequent reminder to think outside of the tried and true and explore the range of options available for visualization.

Notes: To learn more, be sure also to read Lengler and Eppler’s academic paper describing the development of the table at http://ow.ly/wk7d.

Four Great Websites for Data Visualization Inspiration

Flowing Data (Strength in Numbers): Great examples of data visualization from the author, Nathan Yu, a PhD statistics student with a background in design. He also compiles other data visualization resources and encourages sharing and open-source.
Flowing data: http://flowingdata.com/

Information is Beautiful (Ideas, Issues, knowledge, data – visualized!):
From the author of The Visual Miscellaneum, David McCandless. McCandless describes himself as a ‘visual & data journalist’ interested in ‘how designed information can help us understand the world, cut through BS and reveal hidden connections, patterns and stories underneath. Or, failing that, it can just look cool!’ He also has a great scrapbook on Flickr at http://ow.ly/DaIG
Information is Beautiful: http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/

Infosthetics (Where form follows data.): Maintained by Andrew Vande Moere at the University of Sydney, this site ‘collects projects that represent data or information in original or intriguing ways.’ His examples veer wildly from mapping the impact of global warming to a tour of the brain to stitching travel itineraries on postcards – food for thought!

Visual Complexity: Focusing on visualizing complex networks, this site archives and annotates projects from around the world that use systems visualization tools. ‘he project’s main goal is to leverage a critical understanding of different visualization methods, across a series of disciplines, as diverse as Biology, Social Networks or the World Wide Web.’
Visual Complexity: http://www.visualcomplexity.com/vc/

Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match

Today was one of those days when a lot of things came together for me. I am attending a nonprofit technology conference – an event that represents the intersection of my interests in tech and nonprofit management. I had the pleasure of attending a session and then enjoying a luncheon roundtable with Beth Kanter (if you are interested in measurement in nonprofit media and you aren’t reading Beth’s blog, you should be).

This evening I am coordinating a meetup in San Francisco of people interested in program evaluation. We coordinated this via LinkedIn and the attendees span the gamut of members of the American Evaluation Association (I serve as its Executive Director), a couple of people from the nonprofit tech conference – those with a bent towards tech metrics and listening and learning in order to improve technology implementation, and a couple of old friends. Of the 10, I know 3 well, a couple more in passing, and the remaining half not at all.

I thought back to Beth’s blog post on Network Weaving, “the act of taking responsibility for building a network and forging connections between groups or people” from April 7. She extended the concept, originally drawn from groups and organizations, down to the personal level, asking “can you take those principles and use it to connect people in your own professional network?” As I age, and my network grows – both online and off – I realize that this action, that of network weaving, is extremely fulfilling. The objective is not just to expand the network, but to build individual connections among people who will learn from and value one another.

I wanted to take Beth’s idea and think about steps we might take to build these relationships. And, feeding my inner data junkie (or my type-a compulsion, however you would like to frame it), I took about an hour or so to research the attendees for the meetup, to learn more about each person online. Since the arrangements were made through LinkedIn, their profiles were readily available – and a quick google search rounded out my well-intentioned snooping.

I learned things I didn’t know, including about my friends, and found commonalities among those attending – common interests in education programs, graduate schools, health careers, blogging. I am going to dinner armed with something that I really want to know about each attendee, and with a few key pieces of information to help them break the ice with one another. I’m also going with the planned intention of identifying whether there is another person in my network who might benefit from connection to one of the dinner guests, as well as a commitment to active listening for opportunities to nurture the network. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be seen as an adept weaver, a professional matchmaker for the modern age?

Wordle: Visualization of qualitative data

Tool: Wordle

Time to Use: Less than 10 minutes

Cost: Free

Purpose: Produce word clouds from qualitative data

Description: This extremely easy-to-use tool creates word clouds, larger versions like the example at left, from qualitative data. It takes as input any qualitative text (may be cut and pasted directly from a word document) or RSS feed. It returns a word cloud that maps the words (omitting standard English words like ‘the’ ‘and’ and ‘to’) with word size based on frequency.

The resulting cloud may then be further customized with various color themes and formatting.


  • Takes less than five minutes to learn and creates clouds in seconds
  • Advanced version allows for creating clouds from custom lists without repeating words and using completely customizable colors
  • Draws on algorithms developed for IBM


  • Visualization of blog content based on word frequency
  • Visualization of other qualitative data, such as speeches, letters, interview transcripts
  • Wordle clouds make great report covers

Access Wordle here (use this version first and for analysis)

Access Advanced Wordle here

Google Alerts: Free notices of web content updates


Tool: Google Alerts

Time to Use: Less than 10 minutes

Cost: Free

Purpose: Scheduled notification of online content posted across the web

Description: Google alerts provides a way to be notified on a regular basis about key terms of interest to you. A natural starting point is to set up alerts for the name of the group with which you are working. However, there are many other ways to use alerts to gain knowledge about key decision-focused issues.

Let’s say you are working with a group that is striving to change the way we talk about new immigrants. Two possible phrases are “illegal immigrants” and “undocumented immigrants” and your group is working to increase use of the latter. Regular alerts would allow you to see what is being said and to respond through any of a number of channels.

Key advantages to google alerts as a decision-making tool are:

  1. Filtering: They may be scheduled for a frequency that meets your needs, including receiving notices as they occur, daily, or weekly and they may be set to look at all sources, or just news, groups, or
  2. Management: You can very easily set up and manage multiple alerts, with different frequency notices, and
  3. Delivery: They may be sent to an RSS feed, or to email, a key ease-of-use function for many.

How to:

  1. Figure out the key words or terms on which you want to set of notifications,
  2. Go to http://www.google.com/alerts and set up one or more alerts, if using a phrase rather than a stand-alone word, but the phrase in quotes such as “undocumented immigrants”,
  3. If you set up multiple alerts, it is worth setting up a management account to be able to see and refine all of your alerts information in one place. First, set up a google account (http://www.google.com/accounts/?hl=en). Then, go to the google alerts page and you will see a “manage your accounts” link that will now be live and working.

Finally, if you are not getting exactly the responses that you anticipated, refine your search using the advanced search tips found here:


  • Following key changes in campaigns or outreach efforts to allow for immediate responses
  • Updates on programs or products
  • Capacity building -allows users to become invested in looking at and using data

Whitepaper Profile: CRM and Social Media: Maximizing Deeper Customer Relationships

Research on social media use and adoption provides one of the fundamental building blocks for data-based decision-making. The following is a profile of a recently released research report from Avanade.

Date Published: September 2008

Source: Avanade “A global IT consultancy dedicated to using the Microsoft platform to help enterprises achieve profitable growth.”

This Avanade whitepaper is aimed at a corporate audience and is based on phone interviews with over 540 representatives from top-500 firms in 17 countries.

Key Findings:

Engaging with social computing is not on the agenda for 59% of the companies interviewed. The most major barrier to adoption is security concerns, followed by fears of using unproven technologies and apathy on the part of senior management.

Avanade also notes the business impact of social media technologies, including improved perception of the company as forward looking, improved customer service, and decreased response time for customer support issues.

Data  quality:

The details of the methodology and sample are not fully explicated and the range of those interviewed suggests that the respondent may not have full knowledge of social media strategy throughout the organization.

In particular, for the section focusing on business impact and benefits to customers, it is unclear if those findings are based on perceptions from the entire sample or from only the minority actually employing social media in their workplace. The latter would presumably have a better knowledge of the value of such tools.

The paper attempts to provide comparisons across countries and regions, but the number of interviews within each region is not clear and thus the representativeness of such comparisons may be called into question.

Uses of this data to inform decision-making:

  • Increased understanding of barriers to social media adoption
  • Increased understanding of the competitive argument for social media adoption
  • Increased understanding of the perception of social media value in the corporate workplace

Access the full paper

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