IBM Uses Many Eyes to Visualize Data

IBM Lotus opens its research kimono, launching the Many Eyes data visualization project for social networking and much, much more.

ORLANDO, Fla.—IBMs ever-vigilant research arm employs the collective power of many of the brightest brains in the business to come up with solutions to hard computer science problems. As part of the companys continuing effort to deliver social computing software, IBM will launch "Many Eyes," a service that allows people to explore different visual representations of large amounts of data and share it with others to help them collectively make better sense of the information.

IBM plans to announce the Many Eyes project at the Lotusphere 2007 conference here on Jan. 23.

Irene Greif, an IBM fellow and director of Collaborative User Experience for IBM Research, said Many Eyes builds on new ways to visualize data. Greif said the concept was inspired by a "baby name" wizard that one of IBMs researchers developed to help his wife with a book about baby names. He built visualization that showed name popularity over 100 years.

"Wed like to have people share data and be able to visualize data, so we needed to develop some type of system," Greif said.

"Many Eyes is a research project to figure out ways for people to build communities around data," said Matt McKeon, a research developer in IBMs Visual Communication Lab in Cambridge, Mass. "Were trying to take lessons from social software and information visualization. And with Many Eyes you have visualizations anyone can create and post to a Web site."

Business users need to analyze complex data and visualization is well-suited to this task, but it has typically been done in isolation, Greif said. Many Eyes supports collaborative analysis around the visualization of data by drawing on the insight and expertise of users all across the Internet to provide broader and deeper analyses of data.

Created by IBM Researchs Visual Communications Lab, Many Eyes will be available free of charge as a service on IBMs alphaWorks Services Web site in the afternoon of Jan. 23 at The site, when it goes live, will enable early users to try out the software.

"Many Eyes aims to democratize visualization by providing a forum for any users of the site to explore, discuss, and collaborate on visual content," Greif said in a statement. "The result is a process of social data analysis beyond just the visualization."

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At the core, Many Eyes will be a collection of user-generated data visualizations, IBM said. Each visualization will allow for an active discussion to take place and become a common area to share ideas, add insight and understand the visualization in a group setting.

"Its interactive, so you can move the cursor over a spot on the visualization and see the underlying data," McKeon said. Users also can look at discussions about the data and get thumbnails that show what commenters were looking at when they made their comments.

As the visualizations are created by people and the data sets come out of the community, some checks and balances can be placed into the system. "People can easily lie about the data they put in to build a visualization, so one of the important things weve looked at is how you build trust," and IBM is looking at adding identity features and audit trails, McKeon said.

Many Eyes supports 14 types of visualizations, including bar charts, bubble charts, block histograms and world maps.

McKeons group "tried to make uploading data as easy as possible—we took the least common denominator, which is Microsoft Excel," he said. "All you have to do to upload a data set is go to the page and paste in the data." Users can simply upload data from cutting and pasting from their own Excel spreadsheets or tab/comma-delimited text files.

The Many Eyes site will present a set of interactive visualizations that provide insight into a variety of topics—from cereal nutrition data to the fertility rates of countries worldwide.

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By offering the data visualization community a collaborative platform for sharing knowledge, Many Eyes will empower users to explore data visualization in new and exciting ways. For example, a government agency could use this tool to help it understand factors that may indicate potential recipients of governmental aid, the company said. Also, by presenting the data in a visual manner, Many Eyes can help individuals and businesses use complex data to make smarter and more accurate decisions.

Next Page: Innovation Day at Lotusphere.