Sunday, April 13, 2014

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.)


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