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BI 2.0: Data Visualization Meets Social Networking

Web sites demonstrate that analysis gets better when it's open to discussion.
Get ready BI gurus. Are you willing to submit your work to open communities so users can rate and blog about your analyses and suggest improvements? That's what happens at Many-Eyes.com, an IBM Alphaworks site demonstrated at this week's Enterprise 2.0 event in Boston.

Launched in January, the site was inspired by Martin Wattenberg's NameVoyager" on babynamewizard.com, a site created to promote the book of the same name, written by his wife, Laura Wattenberg. The tool supports data visualizations around names and name popularity trends over time, based on publicly available Social Security Administration information on more than 5,000 names.

"People got addicted to this when they started using it, and Martin soon discovered that there were tens of thousands of blog entries about the analyses," says Irene Greif, director of the CUE Research Group, IBM Research Division. "People who didn't care about baby names were getting sucked into the analysis, so we imagined how people might respond if this was information they really cared about."

IBM came up with the Many-Eyes site to experiment with what Greif calls "collaborative social data analysis." The site offers a range of visualizations and data sets, but users can also upload their own data, bookmark the visualizations and create new "topic hubs." Visitors can use blog-style commenting features, and a "rating" feature was recently added in response to user feedback.

"We think the concept works in part because it's an intuitive, dynamic interface, so it's kind of fun," says Greif. "We do a fair amount of editorial work to keep the site lively by featuring visualizations and topic hubs, but it works like magic when you tie it into the blogopshere."

A consistent theme at the Enterprise 2.0 event was that business wins when the collective thinking of a community is harnessed for innovation, analysis and decision making. That may require a cultural shift, however, as top-down organizations learn to share information (within the bounds of security and privacy constraints) and open the door to the ivory tower.