These are exciting and busy times for Business Intelligence at large, and data visualization in particular. It’s hard to keep up with all the innovations in the field. From SAP Xcelsius and Explorer, Microsoft Silverlight, QlikView, mobile players like Roambi and many many others. And, well, Google. I reviewed the Google Charts in a prior blog, but recently also ran into the Google Public Data Explorer labs project.
This is a fascinating concept. Google create an open platform designed to load and explore data. I wanted to share some personal observations about this platform, which I found worth highlighting:
- It’s open. You can upload any data set (once you understand how to package the data and describe it using the DSPL – more on that in a bit) and presto, you get a free data visualization and mining application.
- It makes an attempt at standardization. Google labs engineers faced a difficult problem: how to let developers describe their data in a generic manner. Every BI vendor today solved this problem with proprietary tools and technologies: SAP (BusinessObjects) with Universes, Oracle (OBIEE) with the Admin Tool, IBM (Cognos) with the Framework manager and so on and so forth. Google’s approach is XML based. Google’s Dataset Publishing Language (DSPL) is an attempt at standardizing the way datasets can be described. It borrows from the dimensional modeling (dimensions, metrics) as well as from more abstract notions (topics, concepts, slices).
- It uses flash. The data visualization engine itself is flash based, which is, to say the least, strange. Flash is not an open technology, and since Apple won’t allow it to run on its iOS devices, many vendors are looking to stir clear from it to assure their solutions will work on iPads, iPhones, and such.
Regardless of all this, it is still a very worthy development, and I encourage you to try it out for yourself. It took me about an hour to parse out for myself the DSPL XML structure, and produce a sample set of data files that loaded into the tool. That’s not bad, and reflects well on the simplicity of the design and the well documented tutorials.
If you like to see my example, you can go here. You can mine the data, change visualization (Bar, Line, Bubble and Map charts), run the data across time, apply filter, pivot and more.