Gapminder Software: Review

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010 , 0 comments

What is it?

Gapminder is a tool that allows the user to present a huge amount of world data visually, in moving, interactive graphs.

The software used is called Trendalyzer, and is owned by Google. Gapminder has a license to use the software in order to make data freely available to the public. The non-profit foundation works to advocate free access to public data, in order to foster innovation.

Google has also used the technology to produce Motion Chart, which can be used within Google Docs to visualise one’s own data and create moving graphs.

Gapminder has been made famous by its director Hans Rosling, who works to debunk myths about the developing world. Watch this video of a fantastic TED talk he gave using the tool to see him at work.

What does it do?

Gapminder takes a stream of data dependent on time, and presents it visually, in the form of moving graphs. The ‘selling’ point of this tool is the data it comes with – access to a staggering amount of worldwide data, from geographical disasters and national economy, to personal poverty and AIDS.

The data is displayed on a graph, with variables shown on the x-axis and y-axis, as well as by size and colour. The graph can compare multiple sets of data at one time, over a period of years. Sections of a graph can be zoomed in on, and the path of individual points can be followed, to emphasise specific data when needed. The Gapminder data can even be displayed over a map, so that statistical changes can be shown geographically.

Using the tool to display personal data is slightly more limited. This can be done by using Google Docs, but as the data is not pre-programmed, certain functionalities (such as the map feature) are not supported, and the process is considerably more complicated. Google also allows the user to visualise certain data from Google Analytics.

How easy is it to use?

Using the Gapminder charts with the publicly available data is easy. Select the qualities you want to investigate, or choose from a ready-made graph. All variables can be customised as wished. It’s all simple, easy, and clear – the data is easily managed in a system of menus. There’s even an introductory video by Hans Rosling himself to get you comfortable with the software.

The tool and global data can be used online, or downloaded and used without internet connection from your desktop.

The Trendalyzer software can also be used to present your own data, separately from Gapminder. However, this must be done via GoogleDocs, and so requires an internet connection. Using your own data can be quite complicated, as it requires organising your information in a certain way. Once a chart has been produced, you can then copy and paste an html code to publish your specific Motion Chart online, or view the chart within GoogleDocs itself. Motion Charts are also available in Google Analytics, to analyse trends in your site statistics.

Can it be used in presentations?

The recommendations suggest that if you want to present using the tool, you simply have the program open as well as PowerPoint, and flick between the two when appropriate.

Presenting directly from Gapminder desktop, or the Gapminder website, is simple. You can save the presentations you find useful/interesting – tailored to show the exact statistics you want them to – and keep them open in separate tabs, to flick between when you come to present.

However, the downloaded software cannot be used to add your own data. If you want to use your own data and present it, you must use the software live on the internet via Google Docs, or a webpage upon which you have published the chart.

Following this method does mean that in order to deliver a presentation using Gapminder or a Motion Chart, you’d have to use your own laptop, or be connected to the internet – allowing little room for technical error. These are not ideal requirements when presenting – you certainly don’t want more things that can go wrong!

Can you insert a chart into PowerPoint?

It is possible to include a Motion Chart, produced by either Gapminder or Google Docs, on a slide – with limitations, and with a great deal of effort.

The Motion Chart cannot simply be inserted into PowerPoint. Instead, the Motion Chart must be recorded as video, using screen capture software such as Community Clips. The resulting wmv file can then be inserted onto a slide.

This did not present any difficulties when done within PowerPoint 2003 or 2007. In these versions of PowerPoint, the video is saved into a particular folder, and then linked to from the PowerPoint slide.

However, the same file used would not embed in PowerPoint 2010. m62 is currently working on a solution, as embedding the video would completely change the way it could be used with PowerPoint. As PowerPoint 2010 users can edit videos, the Motion Chart could be manipulated to interact with other slide content. The user could use triggers and bookmarks to automatically pause the video; have animations playing alongside at specific points in the chart; and highlight important points on the slide.

Of course, there are certain workarounds in the earlier versions. The wmv file could be chopped within Windows Media Player, to segment the video into different sections of data. These different videos could be put on different slides, so that the video could be played in stages. This would enable the presenter to talk about specific time periods in regards to the data.

Gapminder has also produced an alternative for those interested in the world data. You can download PowerPoint presentations on the data provided from Gapminder.org, which come complete with animations and manuscript. These function as great examples of how to present visual data effectively.

How could it be useful in a presentation?

The possibilities for using the tool in presentations are clear. Animated graphs are far more engaging for audiences, and will demonstrate the data in a much more interesting, memorable way. The graphs themselves are easy and quick to create. Organising your own data may be difficult, but the graphs that can be produced are worth it.

Of course, there are limitations, and as the software utilises all data in a spreadsheet, it is only useful for showing trends. While you can zoom in on sections of a graph, the tool is probably not the best option for displaying specific points, and the software really only comes into its own when displaying changes in data over time. If you need to isolate specific data and emphasise certain points, creating an animated graph in PowerPoint would still be an option to consider.

Is it worth it?

The Trendalyzer software is fantastic. While presenting with one’s own data has limitations, the tool itself is truly amazing, and should inspire people and presenters everywhere to do more with their graphs, and present data in a truly engaging way.

The project that the Gapminder Foundation has begun aims to offer ordinary people access to this level of data, in an engaging way. Everyone should have a copy of Gapminder on their desktop, even if it’s only just to play around with the software and the huge wealth of data available.

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