Parallel Coordinate Visualization with Protovis

12 11 2009

The Protovis Toolkit includes a very powerful visualization technique call Parallel Coordinates.  This technique is not available in any of the other graphing and charting libraries that I have reviewed (see list of Data Visualization Tools), but it should be.  It is an extremely powerful way to filter through data and see associations of values.

The example in the demo covers 8 dimensions of automobiles.  Let’s say you would like a quick car that is also good on gas.  Using the sliders you select the ranges that are relevant.  You can quickly see that 2 cars meet your criteria.  Additionally, you will notice that both of these selections are late model with relatively few cylinders and low displacement.  Pretty cool insights.

A screenshot of the Parallel Coordinate demo on the Protovis site.

Since this is a toolkit, I imagine there are all sorts of approaches to add some customization. I know in this example I would like to see the actual values of the dimension, a dynamic table of the results, and some details when hovering over the lines.

The Wikipedia page on Parallel Coordinates has links to pre-built apps that you can load different data sets into.  They also have some of the nice features that I mention above.  These seem ideally suited to analysis of data sets, but may not be a great alternative to deploy on the web for an interactive navigation or selection tool.

The Protovis Parallel Coordinate tool seems to be light enough and customizable enough that it could be a great interface for an online data set.  There are also a good number of other techniques included in the toolkit.  It is definitely worth checking out.

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