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November 21, 2014

10 analytics visualisers for beginners

Turn your spreadsheets into pie charts, maps and more with these handy tools.

By Jimmy Nicholls

Big data is abuzz in the technology sector right now, but nobody is quite sure how to take advantage of it. While vendors talk up the benefits of collecting reams of data, it is less clear how you will turn it into useful business intelligence.

For firms just getting started on the treadmill of analytics the question can be daunting, and visualisation is a good place to start. Not only can you impress chief executives with pretty graphs, but they also let you see patterns that are not obvious to the untrained eye moving over dense tables.

Here are ten of the best programs to get you started:

1. IBM Many Eyes

IBM Many Eyes is an accessible platform for those who do not want to get their hands dirty with code. Visuals are not as extensive as the likes of Quadrigram (see below), but still provide ample ways to view your data. Plus the graphs can be easily shared through inbuilt connections with Twitter and Facebook.

2. Weave

Weave was formed as a charitable enterprise enabling non-profits and small firms to take advantage of advances in analytic. Like many community developed projects it is not the most visually pleasing of programs, but as it can be downloaded and setup for free it is hard to complain.

3. NodeXL

NodeXL looks like little more than an Excel spreadsheet, but offers considerable functionality for it. Currently in beta, the software specialises in network graphs, showcasing relationships between disparate components. Graphs can be imported and exported from a variety of formats, and are extensively customisable once loaded.

4. RapidMiner

RapidMiner aims to be a "code free" environment, pitching itself towards those who may not be confident of their technological nous. The interface is largely drag-and-drop, with a number of templates to get you started quickly. For those wanting more, it also boasts a marketplace with extensions.

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5. Quadrigram

Quadrigram was built off the back of Impure, and specialises in creating lots of pretty graphs for you to look at. Everything from political maps to the humble bar chart is accounted for, although many will find the chart options far in excess of what they need. Despite this, the results are spectacular.

6. Chartio

Chartio offers more scope for advanced users than the other items on this list, offering a single click switchover between tables and graphs. Visuals are compiled into expansive dashboards, allowing you to compare data sets easily. It also works on mobile, desktop and tablet devices.

7. VIDI

Though labelled as a Drupal module, anybody can take advantage of VIDI without installing the content management system. Users can both build and embed visualisations, adding annotations as they go. Basic graph types are all here, and you can even branch out to maps for those wanting something more impressive.

8. Zoho Reports

Zoho Reports takes a cloud approach to analytics, working as an online only platform where you upload your data and their infrastructure does the hard work for you. Aside from bypassing potential performance issues, it also eases collaboration between colleagues, and is as convenient as it comes.

9. Statwing

Statwing is another web-based analytics platform, made with data analysts in mind rather than statisticians. Mostly it looks for correlations between two sets of data, such as gender and customer satisfaction, or age and country. Pricing is based on data set sizes, but you can try it out for free on the site.

10. KNIME

KNIME is an open source analytics platform released under the General Public License (GPL). Like others on this list the software is aimed at non-coders, and can also be extended through a number of commercial products and professional support. Its open APIs also allows the user to customise the program for themselves.

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