Data Viz Done Right

October 29, 2014

Plot.ly - A simple interface for creating great looking charts in d3

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Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting Matt Sundquist, Co-Founder and COO of plot.ly. Plotly is a really interesting new data viz product that allows you to quickly build charts directly in your browser. It's built on top of d3, so it has tons of styling capabilities. If you're looking to build charts with d3, but don't want to do much, if any, coding, then you should definitely check it out. They have a free version.

What is Plotly? The folks at import.io have a great summary:
Plotly is a young graphing and analytics startup, which makes it easy to analyze and visualize data together. Using Plot.ly, users can import data from anywhere, then make and share online graphs using Python, MATLAB, R, Excel, Julia, and their web app. Users can also share work and collaborate on projects.
The Plotly API enables users to analyze and visualize data in one place, and forms an important step in building the infrastructure for data science to be further democratized. Their goal is to be an awesome platform for collaboratively analyzing data and making graphs. 
From the Plotly website, in the workspace area (think of this as a worksheet in Tableau):
Easily make graphs with your data in the workspace. Import data from Google Drive or upload Excel or text files. You can apply fits, stats, and functions to your data.  
Every element of a Plotly graph is customizable. Change the colors, annotate, write LaTeX, toggle graph ticks, and much more. It's up to you!
The best way to get familiar with any new product is to start using it. Since I had just publish a parallel coordinates plot in Tableau yesterday, I thought I would use the same dataset and see how long it takes to build something similar in Plotly. I was pleasantly surprised by the simplicity and intuitiveness of the interface. It took me about 30 minutes to build this view, but a lot of that time was spent tweaking the settings to get them just right, which I'm perfectly ok with given the very detailed control I have over the final display.

Plotly doesn't currently support things like filtering and parameters yet, but for a first pass through, I really like it and will definitely be using it more often going forward. So, here's my first plot.ly viz (be sure to hover over dots to see their awesome interactivity):

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