Defining Data Visualization

What is in a name?  Do you remember the contest that emerged to label the Internet?  Terms like Cyberspace or Information Superhighway were more appropriate than Internet to describe the
phenomenon that was occurring. Recently I attended an entrepreneur’s event in the Washington, DC area where they floated an idea about naming the technology corridor from Baltimore to Richmond. It
was believed that having an identity like their brethren in Silicon Valley is important to attracting resources to the area.

Having a clearly defined market space is key to being able to attract customers to a product. Can you imagine buying a copy of MS Word or Word Perfect without first having a concept of a word
processor?  Today when you think about PeopleSoft or SAP you think of ERP and visa versa.

Data Visualization is an emerging market space that is not well defined. Data Visualization is a breed of products that feature a graphic component and a data component. But as a consumer with a
data visualization requirement, I would have trouble doing a product comparison. When I did an Internet search for data visualization products, I found one product that “quickly turns data into
intuitive images”. I found another product that “aides in understanding the volumes of data created by 3D engineering analysis tools using finite elements and finite difference methods”. Then
another that “blends graphics and data into one, change the graphics and it updates the data, change the data and it updates the graphics”. It also seems that many well known names have developed
data visualization products for the commercial market, e.g. IBM, Lucent, SAS, Silicon Graphics. Yet if I were considering Lucent’s product, I wouldn’t compare it against the offerings from IBM or
Silicon Graphics. Nor would I compare Silicon Graphics products to products from SAS or IBM. These products can’t be stacked against each other on feature, function or result.

In the end there will certainly be some market force that will determine which products will be included in the Data Visualization space. Until that happens, I would like to offer four consumer
standards that make sense.

First, Data Visualization products are end user tools. They don’t include products that are defined as data base management, data warehousing, data acquisition, etc.

Second Data Visualization products must have a graphic component that is tightly integrated with a data source. Products that create lines charts and graphs from spreadsheets and other desktop
tools are not data visualization products. In addition changes to the data should be reflected in the graphic component.

Third, Data Visualization products are inherently analytical. Products that render 3D imagery based on some specification data should be classified as design software and not data visualization.

Fourth, Data Visualization products should do more than simply plotting the data. Plotting data is typical for historical analysis. Data Visualization should have some decision analysis components
(what if capabilities, parametric graphics, etc.).

People think visually — computers work analytically. As the technology advances, more and more, designers will develop products that work the way users think. As this occurs, the market for data
visualization will become more defined. I would like to recommend the four ideas outlined above as a good place to start.


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About Don Nachtwey

Don Nachtwey has been involved in developing and marketing information management solutions for over 10 years. Mr. Nachtwey is currently Director of the Thinx Software Division at Information Systems and Services Inc. of Silver Spring, Md. Mr. Nachtwey has created and developed several visualization solutions based on the data/graphic concept of the Thinx technology and is currently working on a data visualization solution for Customer Relationship Management (CRM).

Mr. Nachtwey received a Bachelors of Science degree from Frostburg State University and an MS degree from Carnegie Mellon University.