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Thought Leaders in Big Data: Interview with Stew Langille, CEO of Visual.ly (Part 4)

Posted on Thursday, Jan 17th 2013

Sramana Mitra: I am surprised and also happy that you mentioned those names. How is it that you are suggesting that Tableau is not in the visualization field? There are [data] visualizations there.

Stew Langille: They are. But [that type of] visualization is really an explanatory and an analysis tool. Visualization is an output that shows the results of your explorations. If there is anything worthwhile in the data, it is further digging into it. It is not a presentation or communication layer. There are very few end users who are going to use Tableau to present something outside of their company. It is mostly a professional tool used by analysts. I like those guys and I don’t want to criticize, but I don’t see them in the things fit for visualization. For example there are other people like Prezi – they are not about big data, but they are in the information visualization sector. They change the way we are visualizing information. That is why I talked about the presentation or communication layer. They are going to need a further level of polish to make an end-consumer-friendly offer.

SM: Let’s move to the next step, which is wide spaces and open problems. What do you think?

SL: There are huge open spaces around tabular data. The ability to easily allow individuals with tabular data to [make] Excel and Google spreadsheets to plug into visualization applets and tools quickly is a big area. Right now peopleautomate [by] taking information from a variety of Excel files. At the company, for example, you can say: “OK. This is where we structure our Excel files every week, and therefore we can learn the structure.” If it is a random Excel file and a person starts at row three and has his or her title in the top three rows, then another person comes in and starts at row one, does formatting, and so on, suddenly there are five tabs in the spreadsheet. There isn’t an easy way to get that data plugged in. I think that is one area where we could see more development. If we could help people focus on that problem, there would be more motivation for them to start up.

Another opportunity is in the continued API development – giving companies the ability to make it easier to let data free. There are challenges not just in technical terms, but in privacy concerns and how to ensure the core customer data of a company. This means not giving out information which could in turn mean that the company has to face legal repercussions or damage to the brand. I think there is an opportunity for startups to help companies with that. Not only from a consulting standpoint but also a product standpoint.

Mobile is definitely another opportunity. We are starting to look into mobile. How do you visualize on mobile devices? There is one company I know that is specifically focused on mobile. That is where their strength is. Mobile viewing and mobile analysis is a means to seek a coin. Also, when we look at particular advertising outlets, advertisers and brands are going to follow the media. I think we need the media to have better tools to be able to visualize the data. They are not going to be able to develop their own tools.

This segment is part 4 in the series : Thought Leaders in Big Data: Interview with Stew Langille, CEO of Visual.ly
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