Data visualization tools give form to the content
- By Russell Kay
- Feb 22, 1999
The human eye allows us to see objects and pictures of objects quite well, and we can
absorb an astonishing amount of information from what we see.
Unfortunately, we do not see nearly as well the information contained in masses of
numbers or similar data. Its an old problem in scientific research. And we do what
scientists have donewe use charts and graphs to help us interpret the data. But
consider the mass of information in a data warehousehow do we begin to explore it,
to understand millions of data points?
In data warehousing, you need to be able to look at your data in different formats:
views, reports, graphs and charts, for example. But you should also be prepared to take
advantage of another whole class of tools designed to help you visualize your data.
Every day we see examples of data visualization. TV weather maps overlaid with
time-sequenced radar plots help us understand quite a bit about whats going on
around us. False-color representations help spotlight growth problems in land management.
Visualization can combine representations of multiple data sets simultaneously, or
multiple views of a single data set, even one encompassing millions of data points.
Visualization tools can represent time-series data as stacked graphs or in animated
And dont underestimate the power of mapping. Maps are the basis of a huge and
growing field of data storage and analysis: geographic information systems that can link
various kinds of data, including text, images and maps to yield a truly multidimensional
view of your data.
Seeing and understanding the information buried in a mass of data takes more than a
foot-thick batch of printouts; it takes the kind of computing done by the worlds
most sophisticated graphics processorthe human eye and mind.
To process vast amounts of data, which increases every day, the eye just needs a little
help from software.