I am sorry guys, I feel a strong need to share my frustration with you today. I have discovered yet another infovis library to create the most beautiful visualizations in the world and instead of being excited I am depressed. That's great I really champion the effort of these good guys but a tough question keep hammering in my head: why so many libraries and so few tools? Libraries are great and really needed to speed up the development process but here I perceive a dangerous trend: there are a lot more libraries than real tools written with them!
There are a lot of people out there waiting for our useful tools to come and I think it is time we realize that developing real tools for real people is more important than writing toolkits. Personally, I am totally ready to accept a world with no toolkits and lots of tools.
I give a look around on the web and I cannot find a decent visualization tool freely available, only few expensive highly technical commercial tools. As Stephen Few pointed out in his talk at InfoVis a couple of years ago, there is a whole bunch of casual users out there whose job includes the need to analyze data. So, what are we waiting for? Who is expected to build these tools?
I am worried by this short sighted view and this auto-referential culture where infovis people build things for other infovis people, that's it. We develop libraries and then set up fancy examples to show to ourselves and our peers how good we are. Ok, this is useful and needed to some extent. It helps building a community, sharing knowledge and to consolidate good practices. But if we want to go to the next level and let infovis go beyond the toy tool stage, we have to go one step further and embrace the much riskier and tough question: who will use it?
I see so few examples around that I'm kind of embarrassed to talk about it. Can you list any serious and freely available tool that an average user could use in his or her daily activity? Do we maybe have something that minimally resembles a free Spotfire? We have a myriad or little toy vis scattered around on the web and nothing in our hands.
There are very rare exceptions. Robert Kosara has recently published its Parallel Sets in his EagerEyes and plans to keep the burden of maintaining it over the next follow up versions. This is a great thing. Parallel Set would not solve the analytic problems of the entire world but it is a step towards this direction. Therefore bravo Robert!
Another tool I've seen around recently is Verifiable. A very nice and well done tool to create charts directly on the web. Nothing really revolutionary, but what it does it does it well and with an extremely clear interface.
These have the shape of tools made for end users and this is what we need. C'mon folks, libraries are great but we need to show yet what we are able to do to the entire world. Let's develop tools, tools, tools!!!