Part 3: The essential collection of visualisation resources


This is the third part of a multi-part series designed to share with readers an inspiring collection of the most important, effective, useful and practical data visualisation resources. The series will cover visualisation tools, resources for sourcing and handling data, online learning tutorials, visualisation blogs, visualisation books and academic papers. Your feedback is most welcome to help capture any additions or revisions so that this collection can live up to its claim as the essential list of resources.


The Essential Visualisation Tools III

This third part presents the suite of charting and visualisation resources developed by Google, effective and accessible tools for the masses. Through the typical nature of Google developments, these are constantly evolving development platforms, occasionally mutating, sometime separating, sometime merging. It can be difficult to keep track, hopefully this will bring some clarity.

Please note, I may not have personally used all the tools presented here but have seen sufficient evidence of their value from other sources. Also, to avoid re-inventing the wheel, descriptive text may have been reproduced from native websites for some resources.


Google Docs

Google Docs is a free web-based suite of applications, similar in scope to Microsoft Office and including a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, survey form and drawing tool. It also doubles up as a data storage service allowing users to create and edit documents online as well as collaborate with other users in real-time. Whilst the spreadsheet tool does offer decent charting features its real worth as a key visualisation resource materialises through the collaborative possibilities of sharing and cleaning data, allowing it to be typically used as the back-end dataset to a front-end visualisation method (eg. a Processing sketch).

Find out more information | Cost: Free | Tags: Web-based, spreadsheet, collaborative

Good examples and references: Creating maps using Google Docs | Processing Tutorial using Google Docs | Charting in Docs

Status: Ongoing (July 7, 2011)


Google Fusion Tables

Google Fusion Tables is a data management and visualisation application that offers an extremely versatile and simple way to host, manage, collaborate on, visualise and publish data tables online. From the basis of online hosted data tables users have the option to instantly publish the data as maps, timelines or a variety of charts, depending on the data variables and then embed the visualisation in a web page or shared via an email. Data can be uploaded from spreadsheets or CSV files and exported to CSV or KML also. Developers can use the Fusion Tables API to insert, update, delete and query data programmatically.

Find out more information | Cost: Free | Tags: Spreadsheet, mapping, charts, collaborative

Good examples and references: Make a heat map with Fusion Tables | The Guardian – Deprivation mapping | Smurfmatic

Status: Ongoing (July 7, 2011)


Google Chart API

The Google Chart API lets you generate live, chart images via the attributes passed through a URL string. The API can generate many kinds of charts, from pie or line charts, maps, to QR codes and Venn diagrams. All the information needed to describe the type, design and content of the chart is contained within the URL. The quickest way to construct the commands is via the chart wizard – the resulting URL generated by the wizard can then be embeded into a web page using the <img> tag. Other charts are possible to develop but are not supported via the wizard process (eg. candlestick charts).

Find out more information | Cost: Free | Tags: API, static, wizard, embeddable

Good examples and references: Guide to making static chart images | Gallery

Status: Ongoing (July 7, 2011)


Google Visualization API

Supplementing and enhancing the options available via the Google Chart API is the Google Visualization API. This is used to develop more advanced, web-based interactive charts, graphs and other graphics connected to online datasets, such as the Google Docs platform. Visualisations developed using this API are fully interactive making it possible to write code to handle events and create great effects on your page. You can design reports and dashboards as well as analyse and display data through the wealth of available visualisation options using JavaScript and HTML or by embedding a Google Gadget. The Google Visualization API also provides a platform that can be used to create, share and reuse visualisations written by the developer community at large.

Find out more information | Cost: Free | Tags: API, JavaScript, HTML, interactive, community

Good examples and references: Developer’s guide to creating visualisations | Gallery

Status: Ongoing (July 7, 2011)


Google Motion Chart and Public Data Explorer

Three years ago, Google acquired Trendalyzer, the technology that powered Hans Rosling’s popular Gapminder World software. They Since then, they have launched two applications that utilise this visualisation approach: Motion Chart and Public Data Explorer. Motion Chart is one of the Visualization API chart types that you can design, edit and set up to work with your own data. Public Data Explorer is a new tool that makes large datasets easy to explore, visualise and communicate. It lets you explore data from a number of data providers such as World Bank, EuroStat, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statisitics and U.S. Census Bureau through  bubble-charts, maps, bar- or line charts to help you make comparisons, draw insight and generally find out more about the world. The Public Data Explorer is a Google Labs project, which means that it is still work in progress.

Find out more information | Cost: Free | Tags: Motion charts, data repository, open data, gapminder, multi-variate

Good examples and references: Official launch blog post | Dataset Directory | Gapminder | O’Reilly Radar article

Status: Ongoing (July 7, 2011)


Google Insights for Search

With Google Insights for Search you can draw analytical insight from Google’s vast memory of searching activity, identifying and comparing patterns of search, the evolution of trends and the geographical origin of those conducting the searches. By entering your search terms of interest you can use the generated visualisations components to compare search volume patterns across specific regions, categories, time frames and properties.

Find out more information | Cost: Free | Tags: Trends, search, dashboard, mapping

Good examples and references: Google Insights for Search Examples | About Insights for Search | Google Trends

Status: Ongoing (July 7, 2011)


Google Zeitgeist

Zeitgeist is an annual visualisation released by Google and based on data from Google Insights for Search and Google Trends. The bars visualise the search volume index of a sample of queries relevant to a number of the most significant events of the calendar year. This information allows you to compare how many searches have been done for this event, relative to the total number of searches done on Google over time.

Find out more information | Cost: Free | Tags: Trends, search, mapping, events

Good examples and references: Zeitgeist Home2010 Zeitgeist review in video | Article on Infosthetics

Status: Ongoing (July 7, 2011)


Google Ngram Viewer

Google Ngram Viewer is a simple tool that lets you interrogate and visualise the usage of a word or phrase by seeing how often it has been used in books over the past 500 years. Based on data gathered through Google’s controversial and ambitious digitisation of millions of books, the Ngram Viewer engine analyses this vast sample of the books ever published to give an insight into the ebb and flow of word utilisation by presenting the % of books containing the desired term(s).

Find out more information | Cost: Free | Tags: Words, books, trends, line chart

Good examples and references: Background | Article on

Status: Ongoing (July 7, 2011)


Google Analytics

For the absolute vast majority of website owners, Google Analytics is an invaluable tool used to provide great insights into the nature, volume and behaviour of visitors to their sites. The service tracks visitors to a site and breaks down the pattern of each visit, the pages read, the demographics of the user, the origin of their visit, amongst many other indicators. The visualisations deployed in the analytics dashboard are made up of dynamic combinations of bar charts, line charts, spark lines, pie charts, motion charts and chloropleth maps.

Find out more information | Cost: Free | Tags: Dashboard, line charts, spark lines, websites

Good examples and references: FeaturesProduct TourAnalytics Applications gallery

Status: Ongoing (July 7, 2011) Philanthropy

An emerging part of Google’s activity comes under its philanthropic arm. projects are created for the purpose of addressing social challenges and serving the public good, focusing on activities that take full advantage of Google’s data, technology and innovations. So far they have focussed on several projects that, at their heart, are based on the power of visualisation to bring insight to subjects of mass public interest: Earth Engine provides analysis of satellite imagery on the world’s forests using Google Earth, the spread of flu is mapped across the globe using Google Flu Trends, the Google Crisis Response service makes critical information relating to natural disasters and humanitarian crises more accessible, and Google PowerMeter allows you to view your home’s energy consumption.

Find out more information | Cost: Free | Tags: Mapping, public, global, energy, crises

Good examples and references: Projects | Blog

Status: Ongoing (July 7, 2011)


Google Wonder Wheel

Google Wonder Wheel is a feature found on the Google search page which allows you to view search results via a dynamic and interactive, network or hub-and-spoke visualisation. By exploring the connected terms, you can visually explore the associated terms and definitions to dig deeper into the emerging hubs and arrive at a filtered list of recommended sites, presented on the right hand side.

Find out more information | Cost: Free | Tags: Search, network, interactive

Good examples and references: Example | Guide

Status: No longer available – read here (July 3, 2011)


Notable Others…

Here are some additional suggestions you may wish to consider within this category of visualisation resources:

Choosel | Choosel is an extensible, modular Google Web Toolkit framework for web-based visualisations, data workbenches and infographics that are composed of multiple views.

Graph Viz | GraphViz is a package of open source tools for visualising connectivity graphs. You can create GraphViz graphs using the DOT language and your choice of layout engines.

Data Appeal | DataAppeal uses art and design to provide alluring maps and images, helping to draw the audience to the data, incorporating artistic measures to dramatize the data.


That completes the third part of this collection of essential visualisation tools. Please leave any comments or feedback any suggestions you have to add to this collection or to enhance the detail presented above.

1 Comment

DeclarieApril 17th, 2011 at 6:27 pm

One of the more awesome parts of the Google Charts API is the ability to process GraphViz style diagrams. Using the DOT language, you can describe very complex relationships. This is incredibly useful for flow charts, mapping networks, describing software components, and is a lot like perhaps brainstorming or mind mapping.

Here is their page for it:

Our company also publishes a priced Android application ( ) for throwing these together, and it uses this API, and we find it very handy on the go.

GraphViz itself is a software package with a long history and a very knowledgeable community, too! So what you learn with the Google Charts API can help you into the future with even more advanced diagrams and the overall field of Graph Theory.