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A Better View Into Relationships

Anacubis Desktop 3.0 shows the BI potential of information visualization software.

Rich network visualizations like the one I just described do exist, but aren't readily available in commercial software. Not yet. Perhaps anacubis Desktop will evolve into the software that delivers these riches to the BI market. As anacubis continues to mature, here are a few of the features and functions that I'd like to see:

  • The means to encode quantitative data values using the visual attributes of proximity (that is, the distance between entities as a measure of relatedness), line thickness (the thicker the connector line the stronger the relationship), size (the bigger the entity, the bigger the value), and color (a scale of light to dark to indicate increasing value).
  • The means to easily toggle the text labels of entities and links on and off, ideally all together and per entity or link type.
  • The means to easily toggle on and off the display of entities that aren't linked by selected types of relationships. For example, if I want to see only a company and its competitors, I'd like to filter on competitor links only and watch all companies that aren't competitors disappear from the display.
  • The means to choose the order in which entities are automatically sorted in the View Area based on their properties or link types. For example, sort company entities by the property of total sales revenue or sort Web page entities by internal versus external links.
  • Slider controls for dynamic data filtering based on the value ranges of key properties, such as company revenue.
  • A "focus + context" display in the View Area so that the big picture isn't lost while local data is being examined. This display could involve some form of automatic entity aggregation to reduce the visual space required by data outside of the focus area.
  • The display of time as an animation (either manually or automatically controlled) to visualize change.

Some of these features are, no doubt, technically challenging, but this direction is necessary to exploit the tremendous power of visual perception for data analysis. Anacubis is already on an ambitious release schedule, which I suspect will rapidly produce deeper and more exciting forays into the realm of information visualization, so keep your eyes peeled.

Stephen Few is the founder of Perceptual Edge, a consulting firm that specializes in information design for analysis and communication. His new book, Show Me the Numbers: Designing Tables and Graphs to Enlighten, is now available from Analytics Press.

PRODUCT SPEC SHEET

anacubis Desktop 3.0
anacubis
The Visual Space
Capital Park
Fulbourn
Cambridge
CB1 5XH. UK
Telephone: +44 1223 703995
Fax: +44 1223 728601
www.anacubis.com

Minimum Requirements: Pentium III processor (Pentium 4 recommended); 256MB RAM (512MB recommended); 40MB free hard disk space; 800 x 600 high color (16 bit or 65,536 colors) minimum screen resolution; Internet connection with minimum speed of 56Kbps (faster throughput recommended); Internet Explorer 5.0, 5.5, or 6.0; Windows XP Professional, 2000 (with Service Pack 2 or higher), or NT (with Service Pack 6a).

Pricing: $2,750 per license, per machine

New Features in Version 3.0:

  • Find Path: Take any two entities in the View Area and find the path (all the links and linked entities) between them.
  • Categorizer: Subdivide entities into sub-entities based on properties; for example, group companies into separate entities per country based on the country property.
  • User Aggregation: Aggregate a set of related entities and their relationships into a composite entity, then later disaggregate it by drilling.
  • Database Importer: Import data from Microsoft Access, Oracle, and SQL Server, in addition to the previously accessible Excel or HTML data.
  • Image Importer: Associate images (such as logos) with entities, which will then represent those entities in the View Area.

PROS Cons
  • Useful method for visualizing networks of entities and relationships
  • Simple, conveniently arranged user interface
  • Nice integration with a growing number of Internet-based data providers
  • Relies too heavily on text and complex icons to encode information
  • Doesn't encode the strength of relationships
  • Lacks some of the proven techniques for visualizing entities and relationships