13 free data visualization tools on the web

13 free data visualization tools on the web

Data visualization is a hot topic these days in the analytics community, yet stepping away from good ol’ Excel sometimes seems daunting. Yet when you see a cool visualization you wonder: how can I also make this happen?

To answer this question you turn to Google, but the first hits you may find could scare you away with their complexity. In order to help you ease the transition and find the right level of complexity for you I have collected 13 resources and ordered by the difficulty of their usage. There is no clear metric though on difficulty, so this ranking is only based on my assumptions and approach. Still I think some of this guidance will help you out.

Easy and fast to learn

These tools are either very similar to Excel itself or are so simple to start using that you will not have major difficulties starting out.

Datawrapper

Datawrapper data visualization

Datawrapper is probably the easiest to use among all of these data visualization tools. It is as simple as pasting a Google Sheets link or uploading your data, then picking the chart. Many online publications, like the Guardian, use Datawrapper to pimp up their stories, so no shame in going super simple.

Because of its simplicity this is the tool of choice for most non-techie people.

Timeline.js

Timeline.js data visualization example

One of the specialized data visualization tools Timeline.JS helps you, well, creating timelines. Actually I think it is a pitty that there are not many more timeline visualization libraries out there.

The .js might be slightly scary in the name. Yes, it is a Javascript library, but to set up a timeline you do not need to know Javascript. It is a simple 4 steps process and the only time when you need to touch code is when you embed it into your site. And that is a copy and paste action.

Charted

Charted Data Visualization tool

Charted is as simple as Datawrapper. You give it a link or upload a CSV and you are ready to go. It is particularly easy to use due to it’s very clean user interface.

You can also download it’s source code if you wish, but anyways using the service itself is free.

Google Charts

Google Charts Data Visualization tool

Google Charts errs towards the intermediate difficulty section, but still simple enough to learn it fast, but already feature rich enough to power more complex visualizations.

There is also a gallery where you can check out many examples.

Intermediate difficulty

Here you might need to read, learn and play a bit around to get the basics of these tools, but with some time investement you can really get to amazing data visualiations.

Tableau

Tableau Data Visualization

Tableau is probably one of the big names around here. It’s public version is free to use, though has some limitations, which I think are OK for starting up.

This tool shines when creating interactive charts and maps. Filter and click around with any finished, published chart to drill down easily and gain more insight.

Learning Tableau is not super complex, yet it is still not as simple as uploading a file, picking a chart type and go. If you invest some minimal time though, you can get pretty awesome data visualization, or their combinations, published.

Raw

Raw promotes itself as “the missing link between spreadsheets and vector graphics”. Using it is still relatively simple, as explained in the above video. Raw is powerful enough as it is built on top of D3.js (discussed later), probably the most popular and powerful free data visualization tool.

Flot

Flot data visualization tool

Flot is an easy to use Javascript library. That being said you do need to do some coding, but thankfully not much and there is excellent documentation and many examples to help you out. Flot adds some cool features like panning, zooming or resizing into your visualizations.

Chartist.js

Chartist.JS Data visualization tool

In terms of looks the results of Chartist.js pretty much resemble that of Excel, but slightly more polished. While being a small library it brings in responsiveness, animations and beautiful rendering to up your game. Chartist.js already requires some actual coding, so it is borderline expert territory.

To get some inspiration you may check some examples here.

Expert territory

At times you need to get down to high complexity or even actual coding to get the best. Actually some of the most popular tools on the web belong into this category. If you want to get really awesome, prepare to invest significant time into learning these tools.

Highcharts

Highcharts data visualization library

Highcharts is one of the big names in data visualization and is free for non-commercial purposes. It offers a lot of plugins to make sure that you do not need to deal too much with Javascript directly, but still, it is a Javascript/JQuery library.

Dygraphs

dygraphs data visualization tool

Dygrpahs shines when interpreting dense data sets, it does so very efficiently.It also allows for panning, zooming and mouse-over actions and supports all browsers back to Internet Explorer 8.

You may check out the dygrpahs demo gallery to see your options.

Polymaps

Polymaps data visualization tool

Polymaps is, as its name suggest, a specialized tool for maps. While many other libraries, especially in the advanced section, handle maps well if you want something sharpened for it you should look at Polymaps. It can also pull data from OpenStreetMap, Bing or other map image provider helping you to get things done faster.

 

Fusioncharts

Fusioncharts data visualization library

Fusioncharts boasts over 90 chart type and more than 960 maps. All this is supported in browsersback to Internet Explorer 6, so basically in any browser no matter how old the viewer’s computer is. This is already a power user’s tool, supporting both JSON and XML data formats. If you want to become a real pro Fusioncharts can be an excellent option.

D3.js

D3 data visualization library

Probably the most well kown charting library on the web, D3.js gives the ability to developers to create even the mst complex charts or maps. It is using open web technologies, such as HTML, SVG and CSS to ensure cross platform and cross browser compatibility. One drawback could be that D3 is created for modern browsers so will not support as many users as Fusioncharts does.

The learning curve here is considerable, though your time investment can make youa real pro when it comes to data visualization on the web.

Conclusion

Luckily there are many free data visualization tools around the web ranging from super simple and clean solutions to the ones which are recommended only for developers who are willing to invest serious time into becoming pros.

Depending on your use case and ambitions you can pick your tools. If you are an occassional user, then go with options from the easier sections, if you want to dedicate a major section of your career to data visualization you should learn Javascript and play with the expert options available.

Whichever option you pick, I’m sure a beautiful chart will boost engagement on your site or publication. Just be careful not to overdo it.


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