Activity Data Synthesis

Monday, 20 June 2011

Draft Guide: 'Bringing activity data to life'

[This is a draft Guide that will be published as a deliverable of the synthesis team's activities. Your comments are very much welcomed and will inform the final published version of this Guide. We are particularly interested in any additional examples you might have for the 'Additional Resources' section]

The problem:
Activity and attention data is typically large scale and may combine data from a variety of sources (e.g. learning, library, access management) and events (turnstile entry, system login, search, refine, download, borrow, return, review, rate, etc). It needs methods to make it amenable to analysis.

It is easy to think of visualisation simply as a tool to help our audiences (e.g. management) ‘see’ the messages (trends, correlations, etc) that we wish to highlight from our datasets. However experience with ‘big’ data indicates that visualisation and simulation tools are equally important for the expert, assisting in the formative steps of identifying patterns and trends to inform further investigation, analysis and ultimately the development of such as Performance Indicators.

The options:
Statisticians and scientists have a long history of using computer tools, which can be complex to drive. At the other extreme, spreadsheets such as Excel have popularised basic graphical display for relatively small data sets. However, a number of drivers (ranging from cloud processing capability to software version control) have led to a recent explosion of high quality visualization tools capable of working with a wide variety of data formats and therefore accessible to all skill levels (including the humble spreadsheet user).

Taking it further:
Youtube is a source of introductory videos for tools in this space, ranging from Microsoft Excel features to the cloud based processing from Google and IBM to tools such as Gephi, which originated in the world of version control. Here are some tools recommended by people like us:
Excel Animated Chart -
Excel Bubble Chart -

Google Motion Chart -

IBM Many Eyes -
Use Many Eyes at

Gapminder Desktop -
See also

Gephi -

Gourse -

Additional resources:
To grasp the potential, watch Hans Rosling famously using Gapminder in his TED talk on third world myths -
UK-based Tony Hirst (@pyschemedia) has posted examples of such tools in action – see his Youtube channel - Posts include Google Motion Chart using Formula 1 data, Gourse using Edina OpenURL data and a demo of IBM Many Eyes.
A wide ranging introduction to hundreds of visualisation tools and methods is provided at

1 comment:

  1. There are lot of charting API's out there for web delivery. The most interesting I found was Highcharts which allows the use of dynamic data as well as the usual interactions.