Few journalists are programmers or graphic designers, but that doesn’t mean they can’t dabble in data journalism online. Here are some free, easy tools that you, our StateImpact reporters, will be using to tell stories.
• IBM Many Eyes: A site with multiple visualization tools, including interactive bubble charts, line graphs and tree maps. It’s also among the best (free) places to experiment with text visualization. It has weaknesses, though. Users can’t style graphics to match their own CSS, and the embeds require a Java browser plugin. Still, it’s a neat tool.
• Google Charts API: A tool that allows you to create and embed multiple, customizable chart styles without branding or clutter. The API also has multiple libraries for programmers to create charts dynamically from data. Here’s an example.
• Tableau Public: Free application for visualizing data in maps, charts and creating embeddable dashboards. It requires a PC software download, however.
• Wordle: Visualize text by creating “word clouds,” which increase the size of a word based on its frequency of use. This can be helpful for showing readers important key words in documents or government officials’ speeches.
• Google Fusion Tables: A relatively new browser-based tool for querying and visualizing large data sets. It has powerful Google Maps integration through the FusionTablesLayer class in API. Supports KML files.
• Google Maps: Among the best mapping and mashup engine on the Web has simple ways for non-programmers to build interactive embeds. Also, the company has a robust API for programmers. Use the “My Maps” feature to plot points by hand.
• Batch Geocode: You no longer need to be an expert or have expensive mapping software and shape files to plot longitude and latitude for Web mapping. Batch Geocode is a GUI for the Google Maps API. It’s best to standardize addresses and spot check for accuracy. Unfortunately, the site recently eliminated the export feature for Google Maps.
• Tableau Public: Great tool for styling proportional symbols on maps. It also has an extensive store of free data on demographics by geography.
• DocumentCloud: Upload, annotate documents — also uses OCR to make them searchable. Soon, it will allow readers to create their own annotations.
• Scribd: Free tool to upload and share documents. You can embed them online and users can print or view full screen.
• Google Refine: A nifty tool for cleaning up and transforming messy data sets. Good tutorials online.
• Google Fusion Tables: It’s essentially free database manager in the cloud, allowing anyone to easily query, aggregate and join large data tables (include those made public by others). View sample code.
This is by no means a comprehensive list. Let us know about other tools you’ve discovered.