Visualization is the art & science of making complex ideas easy to understand through visuals.

It is a design technique that is woefully underutilized on many websites but an area that I expect to grow in the future.

TouchgraphHere are my favorite visualization tools in 2009.

1.  Facebook’s Touchgraph Photo

This Facebook application allows me to see how my friends are interconnected.

In this photo, I’ve highlight my twin sister who is the most connected, of course, to the rest of my friend network.  The various colours represent different networks which on my map tends to be geography or former place of work.

While interesting, I haven’t found this much use in business life.  I can’t seem to apply this to Facebook corporate fan pages where it would be very interesting to have a tool to visually show which

fans are most connected or which regions stand out in the fan base.  I find these tools exist but just are easily applied to business yet.

Touchgraph will also do a map of interconnected websites around a google search term, however, this seems to generate a lot of wikipedia site entries.


Word clouds are perhaps the best known ‘web 2.0’ visualization made popular by, an online word cloud generator online.   Wordle certainly is not new; its an online tool that has been around since at least 2006, but it remains a very popular interactive tool.

Wordle-summaryYou can take a resume or speech and drop the text in wordle and it will generate your word cloud.  The words that are larger represent words that are mentioned more often and so you begin to see where the emphasis is in a speech.

Chirag Mehta, a former grad student at the University of Tampa, made tag clouds of all the US presidents State of the Union or Inaugural Addresses – well up to Bush 2001 anyways.  Watch the word ‘war’ over two hundred years of speeches.


A neat variation of the word cloud is a tweet cloud.  I recommend using Tweetstats to generate your twitter cloud as the tool seems to cover a longer time period of your tweeting. Starbucks tweet cloud Some twitter metric tools will only cover the past 200 tweets which can give false reads on impressions and performance.  Tweetstats allows exports to if you don’t like the generated tag cloud.

Tweetstats will also indicate how many ‘twooshes’ you’ve had – that is how many 140 character tweets you’ve had.

I’ve use twitter word clouds in the past for my clients to demonstrate what our tweets have been about.  This was particularly helpful for sponsored events where I’ve been able to show strong tweet mention of the sponsors.

4.  TrendsmapTrendsmap
This is a real time mapping of twitter trends around the world.   You can drill down to a local region to get read on the most popular tags at the moment.   If you click on an actual tag, you can see a live stream of tweets using the tag.

Be mindful, however, a tag may be popular but have no relationship between tweets.  For instance, the word ‘purchase’ is used over and over again but is not representing a meme or common idea in the twitterverse.

5. VizeduVizedu is an online resource that explains emerging technology through easy to understand slide presentations.

The social networking slides are among my favorites though I wish there were additional functionality to add voice overs and take these organized, well presented thoughts to the next level.

6.  GOOD magazine

This is a new source for me suggested by @theSaaSGuy:

“If you are looking for really neat information visualization then GOOD magazine is the best.”.

Good magazine feels like an American version of Adbusters but less tiring and with more purpose.GOOD100cover

Good is, in its own words, “making a magazine, videos, and events for people who give a damn.”

Greater exploration reveals a worm hole that will prevent me from finishing this blog piece.  To be honest, I’m a little embarrassed that I didn’t know about the magazine sooner.  Note to self – start looking at the magazine racks again!   Take a peek at this article on understanding your water footprint.

Admittedly, I’m a bit of a minion talking about visualizations – it is a rigorous discipline that I have little training in beyond the appreciation that it is underutilized online.  Easily said, however, is that visualizations can not just be colourful and interesting but the user has to understand copious amounts of data or a complex subject easily and quickly.

I’d be interested in your favorite visualization in 2009.  Please leave me a comment for me here.


Laurie Dillon-Schalk is the Chief Marketing Strategist and founder of Social Wisdom – a Toronto based digital marketing consultancy that helps firms use social media and the web wisely.

You can find Laurie on Twitter at or on her blog at