Sunday, April 13, 2014

QGIS: Save to KML

QGIS is free, open source, multi-platform. Download at It has lots of prerequisites, so be patient and methodical.

For this exercise, we are opening a file with all counties in Texas, then selecting the five in our MSA (Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop, Caldwell) and saving them out separately as its own KML file.

This is a QGIS lesson on how to convert a .shp file to .kml to be used with Fusion Tables.

Download the zip file Unzip the file so you have a folder of contents. Note there are five files, including one .shp

In QGIS, go to Layer > Add Vector Layer. (Or look for the icon at left.)  Browse to your .shp file. 

Use the selection tool (pictured at left) to select Travis county, then hold the Command key (Mac) and select on Bastrop, Caldwell, Hays and Williamson counties. This should allow you to add them to your selection. It will look something like the photo at right, through your colors may be different, since QGIS picks them at random.

In the layers panel at left, right-click on the layer and choose Save Selection As ...

Click on the Format option and then change the format option to "Keyhole Markup Language (KML).

Next, you need to choose where to save the file, and what to name it. Under Save As, click the Browse button, name your file in the Save As window what you want to name it, then negotiate to the folder where you want to save your file. Click "Save" to set the settings.

Then you'll need to check your CRS, or Coordinate Reference System. I've been OK using the NAD83:4269 setting, though I've seen some references suggest that Google wants WGS84:4269. Type the number into the Filter field and you'll see your's listed. Choose the one in the bottom window.

Once all of those are set, you can hit OK on the "Save vector layer as" window, and your new KML file will be saved. It is that new AustinMSACounties file that you can upload into Google Fusion Tables.

Online charting tools

Online charting tools
There are a lot of online tools to help you create simple data visualizations and embed them in your story, with more cropping up every day. Most of them are built upon Mike Bostock’s Data-Driven Documents, a powerful javascript library for visualizations.

These tools can be both easy and powerful, but they do have some disadvantages:
  • You are dependent on their hosting. If their site goes down or their business fails, your visualization and your data are gone.
  • Tools that start free may not always remain so. Some begin charging as you add more graphics, or after a period of time, or by the internet traffic that comes to your chart.
  • You can only do what the tool can do. If the tool doesn’t have the feature you need, it may not be extensible enough for you to add or create your feature.

But there is a lot of good, too. All these tools are easy to use and can be easily embedded in your story online.

DATAWRAPPER is a German-built, free, open source charting service built upon D3 that has improved significantly over the past year. It’s listed first here for a reason: It powerful and easy to use. It has bar charts, pie charts, line charts, tables and even maps. The Guardian is a heavy user of datawrapper, hosting their own instance.

VIDA.IO is similar to Datawrapper, but using Google’s chart API as a back end.

INFOGR.AM is a new, freemium tool to create online information graphics that allow you to mix text, photos and data. The charts you can create are professional looking.


Infoactive is a freemium interactive infographic and data visualization service that is in open beta (as of 7/7/2014). It allows two free graphics before a subscription is required.


Chartbuilder is a static chart creator built by the website. It uses D3 to make the graphics, but they are not interactive at all. Benefits are the software is open source, so with effort you could create a version with your own styles. See an example on


If you are starting from scratch, my favorite table maker is TablesGenerator, which also has data to other formats. Tableizer is a dirt-simple spreadsheet-to-table converter from data. The columns are not sortable, nor is there any other interactivity, but it is a start.

There are probably dozens more services. The Google gives us ChartGo, OnlineChartTool, and Hohli. Use at your own risk or pleasure.


  • Timeline tools
    • TimelineJS: A timeline tool that’s as easy as filling out a Google Docs Spreadsheet.
    • StoryMap: TimelineJS + location. Nicer display than TimeMapper.
    • TimelineJS w/ Gigapixel: Zoom around a single image to tell as story.
    • TimeMapper: TimelineJS + location, but StoryMap is cooler.
    • Another geographic timeline
  • SoundCite: Inline audio to support a story. (Not really a visualization tool, but still cool.)

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Datawrapper graphic published is a pretty simple yet powerful visualization service. It can make bar graphs, pie charts, maps, tables and more.
  Here is an example map that was created using their sample data. After I copied the iframe code from Datawrapper, in Blogger I had to go to the HTML window to paste it in.