People love data visualization; when done well, it communicates new knowledge about otherwise inaccessible information in new and pleasing ways. Good visualizations can be efficient and effective; bad visualizations can be seductive and deceptive. That's why visually designed data-based content, both good and bad, is so popular online. People love infographics.
Today a startup called Visually drew back the curtains a little bit further on its data visualization technology and community. The company unveiled an index of 2,000 data visualizations, a cute Twitter visualization creation tool and promises to help anyone create their own visualizations with a series of self-service tools to be released throughout the year. Interest in the service is so heated that the Visually website melted early this morning.
That's consistent with where the founders of the company came from: Mint.com. That wildly successful personal finance service gathered consumer finance data and then drew big picture conclusions about the state of the economy and consumer behavior. The resulting data visualizations were beautiful and a key part of driving consumer interest in the company's services. That consumer interest helped the company get acquired by finance giant Intuit in 2009.
Visually's co-founders are both from Mint; CEO Stew Langille was a marketing exec there, and Lee Sherman was the company blog's editor. (Disclosure: I actually recruited Sherman for that position as a part of the small consulting practice I do on the side, though before I was here at ReadWriteWeb.)
Mint reportedly didn't create its own infographics in-house; it gathered the data sets, then hired independent designers to visualize them. Then those infographics blew up on sites like then-hot social news site Digg and now-hot Reddit.
That strategy was parlayed into a great reputation for data visualization on the part of Langille and Sherman. Now they are working on a tool that will allow anyone to create such creative work for themselves. Visually also promises a search engine that will index "all existing Web-based data visualizations" (how they will be ranked and sorted, we don't know) and data warehouse that will help seed the visualizations of their customers.
The company has told press that it will charge power users $100 to $300 per month to use its tool and has said that it could "easily" be billing $300,000 per month just from client work it has secured, without launching any public tool at all.
If that's the case, it's not clear to me why the company is going to mess around with a long tail of customers at a low price point. Are there tens of thousands of organizations that are in a position to create valuable infographics, even with the help of the easy and effective tool that Visually is promising? I'm not sure. I'm also not sure that a demonstration app at launch that makes cute Twitter avatars based on the contents of your tweets are the most effective content marketing for a B2B service, but maybe it doesn't matter: the lust for infographic power is very, very strong.
As a result of that, there is no longer a shortage of other services online that promise to make it easy to create data visualizations. How Visually will stack up with ManyEyes or Tableau, much less visualization specialists for hire like JESS3 (apparently a Visually launch partner) or Bloom remains of course to be seen. Visually hasn't launched much so far, though 2,000 examples of infographic inspiration are certainly valuable.
It's widely believed that a tidal wave of value-laden data is just about to crash over the top of the Web and the world, though. As it does, huge pockets of opportunity should appear for new service providers to offer new forms of value. Data visualization is going to be a big area of opportunity for services like Visually and for their customers.