17: visualisation tools

November 13, 2015 – 9:50 am


Zombie Apocalypse – https://public.tableau.com/s/gallery/zombie-apocalypse using Tableau Public

Researchers produce data in a variety of forms and usually in large quantities. Visualisation tools can help you to synthesize this data and provide engaging ways for presenting it to a broader audience.  This week we take a look at a range of some popular visualisation tools that work for various different types of data.  

Google Public Data Explorer is a tool developed by Google Labs that makes large datasets easy to explore, visualise and understand. It offers a simple way of generating different views and graphs (e.g., bar charts, line graphs, etc.) to better understand and present data.

Currently a range of public data (130 datasets as of 6 August 2014) from organisations and academic institutions—including US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Eurostat, Statistics Iceland, etc.—are available for users to explore interactively. You can also upload your own datasets, using the Dataset Publishing Language (DSPL) format, to Google Public Data Explorer for visualisation and exploration.

It is important to note that you will NOT be able to export data, only manipulate them within theGoogle Data Explorer environment. However, you can embed the data as part of a website or email the link to someone else. The tool produces interactive, animated graphics using the four available chart formats, i.e., Line Chart, Bar Chart, Map Chart and Bubble Chart. More information at Google Public Data help.


Gapminder is a visualisation software package created by a Swedish Foundation, directed by Hans Rosling, to help enliven and disseminate freely available social science data using animated, interactive graphs.

Gapminder is powered by a software called Trendalyzer (which is owned and licensed by Google) and comes with a staggering range of data collected worldwide (519 datasets as of 6 August 2014), on subjects from national economies to AIDS.

It is also possible to use Gapminder to display data over a map so the statistical changes can be seen geographically. However, it has a limited ability to upload and visualise private datasets (possibly via the use of Google Docs) with certain functionalities (e.g., map) not supported.

Tableau Public

Tableau Public is a free desktop tool for generating interactive data visualisation, graphs and reports onto the Internet. You can use this application to analyse any type of structured dataset, and can publish the work to Tableau Public web servers where they will be readily accessible to the general public.

Tableau Public is an advanced desktop tool for people who don’t have programming skills but still want to create highly interactive data visualisations on the web. It offers a “visual data window” that allows you to connect different data sources by simply pointing and clicking. You can also apply various filters before exporting the data. Tableau Public can connect to Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Access, and multiple text file formats but has a limit of 1,000,000 rows of data in any single file.

There are a rich selection of visualisation features such as “word cloud”, “bubble map”, “tree map”, etc. After the data is published, you can browse these visualisations using Tableau Viz, a thin AJAX-based application, directly within their web browsers.

The published data saved to Tableau Public is accessible by the general public but the you can remove your content later if needed. There are also paid versions of Tableau software, namely Tableau Personal and Tableau Professional, that allow you to save your visualisation works locally.

Google Public Data Explorer


Tableau Public

Cost Free Free Free
Type Web Web/Desktop
Visualisation types Basic Basic Advanced
Use own datasets Yes Yes (but limited) Yes
Visualisation output No No Image, PDF or data
Total storage limit N/A N/A 1GB


Oh, there are always more!

The 37 best tools for data visualization

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has ABS TableBuilder – an online self-help tool which enables users to create tables, graphs and maps of Australian Census data.

Tools vary from ready-to-use options to the more technical….and there are some free, open-source JavaScript libraries that you can use to develop your own visualisations on your own website. For example, Timeline is a web widget that creates interactive horizontal timelines (great for visualising temporal data), Modest Maps is a small but extensive library for generating interactive maps, and Flot is a jQuery library for plotting attractive interactive graphs.


Most of the tools discussed here use publicly available datasets for generating the visualisations and graphs. When using a tool that allows you to upload your own data collection, for instance Tableau Public, you need to consider if these are any restrictions on those data being hosted on a public server.

Question for Thing 17:

[Imagine] Think about the role of data in your research, and what formats you’re expected to present it in. Will any of these tools be useful?

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  1. 12 Responses to “17: visualisation tools”

  2. I feel so cheated.
    My thesis focused on the intangible (conceptual analytic) so even though it was empirical research it didn’t (and still doesn’t) lend itself to visualisation. Thus, sadly I didn’t get to use any of these programs with my own research however I have used them just for fun – and they are – so. much. fun.
    A while back I did an advanced Google online MOOC-ish thingamajig and we had a module on the public data explorer. More recently I have been into Tableau. I wrote a report for LEG which reviewed Tableau for use in the library but it is rather expensive so I didn’t recommend that we purchase the licensing. We could still use Tableau public within the library, but we would be limited as to which data we could explore foremost due to staff/student privacy.
    Also, I have Tableau Reader (free download) on my work pc. Quite a few American libraries use Tableau to analyse/visualise their statistics. I was sent an AMAZING Tableau workbook from the University of British Columbia Library – if you would like to see it – call me via Lync and I would be happy to ScreenShare and show you their library observation study.

    By Tatum on Nov 19, 2015

  3. Google Public Data Explorer graph of rising crime in NZ:

    By Gertrud on Nov 30, 2015

  4. Rising crime in NZ version 2.
    The embedded link does not show in the post above, maybe this link works:

    By Gertrud on Nov 30, 2015

  5. How interesting Tatum…about Tableau.

    By ACULibrary on Dec 23, 2015

  6. I think these tools are really cool, as an experiment I looked at it in terms of changes in architecture in cities so with Historypin, I chose a major city and had a look at what they had to offer in terms of photos of the city throughout the decades. I suppose you could take it further and chart the changes ie. how many banks, bakeries and marked remain in the area on tableau.

    By Nica on Jan 7, 2016

  7. And by visualising changes in architecture in cities this can lead to other areas of research – social aspects of who lived there and what did they do?

    By ACULibrary on Jan 7, 2016

  8. My work project research was just a simple survey on use of ereaders. For that small amount of data we used Excel to display the data, but I can see where large amounts of data can be more easily understood by use of visualisation tools.

    Gapminder is a great site – I loved this video about the magic washing machine.

    By Tracy Bruce on Jan 15, 2016

  9. Powerful TED talk/video. I watched it all!

    By ACULibrary on Feb 5, 2016

  10. I feel like i have learnt about great new things here. I am really impressed with these visualisation tools, I have always been a ABS nerd and can scroll through and compare stats on sydney suburbs for hours. I am glad i have knowledge of the existance of Tableau and Google Public Data Explorer to refer researchers to these tools.

    By sally kudrna on Jan 15, 2016

  11. That’s good. 23 Research Things aims to expose you to new research tools 🙂

    By ACULibrary on Feb 5, 2016

  12. Wow, I had no idea so many tools were so readily available! I have seen data represented by a number of these formats and now know why they are useful tools for presenting certain types of information and creating a picture on a page for quick reference about what data shows. Those I have seen (but never created) include tools like iCharts which are often used in HR reports when showing financial activity reports of how the budget is allocated and then spent for operational units, many of the map/area ones would be great tools for visually presenting demographic data such as watching trends in urban areas of movements of broad categories such as education facilities, SES levels, how local population uses cultural institutions (such as museums, libraries etc).The Crossfilter tool is often used to present data such as usage stats for electronic resources (or COUNTER compliance data. I love the use of Excel heat maps when resenting information from research such as Staff Satisfaction surveys. I could see things like the Timeline charts could be used as a tool for longitudinal studies as well as a Project management approach to a Research Project by entering milestones to be met within certain timeframes. I loved the Fusion Charts. Such a clean way of presenting data to show something instantly. lots of great discoveries here for me!

    By Helena on Mar 2, 2016

  13. There ARE lots of tools aren’t there…you would imagine that there would be one to suit almost any research visualization need.

    By ACULibrary on Mar 4, 2016

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