BuzzData gives people the analysis and visualization tools they need to find the story in a data set, and to communicate it visually through the creation of smart executive summaries. People can set up their own BuzzData Hive, where teams and communities can store and share their files, visualizations and analysis.
MaRS Market Intelligence spoke with Nick Edouard of BuzzData.
What is the underlying problem you are trying to solve with BuzzData?
There are many problems with the way in which data is shared today, particularly in large organizations. Too many people look to share large files such as Excel spreadsheets by email, with massive cover notes. What the intended audience usually really needs is just the key facts and figures: the executive summary, if you will, from that data. People often do not have the time or the skill sets to understand data that is not communicated visually and effectively.
And while there are good file-sharing tools such as Dropbox, they are not an optimum way to communicate information, particularly when that data needs engagement and discussion in order for meaningful insights to be extracted.
And where do data visualizations fit into all of this?
The visualizations are key to helping users explore and understand the data that’s been uploaded. For example, say you have uploaded a North American sales forecast. BuzzData will offer a suite of tools that asks, “What do you want to do with this data? Do you want to try a visualization? Do you want to complete an infographic? Do you want to find some structure in this unstructured document?”
The tools will then return the output of that manipulation as a new artifact into the data room. These artifacts can then be structured into an executive summary, highlighting the key facts and figures that need to be communicated.
Have you built these visualization tools internally?
No. We are leveraging best-in-class tools from third parties, one of which is the infographic application infogr.am. There are a whole host of visualization tools, applications and products out there that do one thing really well, whether that be mapping, graphing, motion charts, etc. But it’s hard for a user to know what exists. Our goal is to make it easy for a BuzzData user to choose the best tool they want and to produce the type of analysis and artifact that they are looking for.
Who are your some of your customers today?
We’re doing a lot of work with some really exciting companies and organizations that regularly produce data and know they need to do better in terms of how they share and use it, both internally and externally―market research and management consultant companies, for example. Often, they are looking at new ways of delivering information to their customers, say by taking their current executive summaries and turning them into something that is much more visual, engaging and easier to grasp.
We also ran the Best City in the World Contest with The Economist’s intelligence unit earlier this year to crowdsource a new livability index. The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) has been publishing the results of their livability analysis for years. One angle they were interested in was readers’ thoughts on whether they were approaching the analysis correctly and what additional factors could be included in the index. So the EIU published the underlying data, and the community engaged with it and produced some really interesting results.
One of the things the winner did was assess the relative proportion of green space to urban sprawl within a city using OpenStreetMap and Google Earth. Another individual produced an app that calculates the best city for an individual based on a user’s own preferences and rankings.
How comfortable are your customers with sharing their data publicly?
BuzzData Hives can either be private―locked down and by invitation only, or public―discoverable by Google. At the moment, the private Hives outnumber the public ones at a rate of four to one, so we’re definitely not just about public or open-data sharing. That said, there are some very interesting things happening on the public side. Some organizations are looking to better inform their communities about specific topics so that they in turn become better advocates, and others are seeking to get their community involved in the development of products and services.
A professor at the University of Toronto’s faculty of math has recently set up an NSERC public Hive. This Hive gives academics, government officials and anyone interested in NSERC* a way to engage with the data related to its funding so they can better understand how it is being applied, whether it’s working and so on.
What are some challenges that you’re facing?
Our customers are sensitive to issues around data storage―specifically, security and jurisdictional considerations. While BuzzData itself is secure and not cloud-based, our customers are increasingly questioning where their data physically resides and who could potentially access it. This is a challenge for us and the SaaS market in general, as we need to build solutions that meet our customer’s specific requirements. Fortunately we anticipated this, and we believe we have built the product to be able to accommodate these requirements.
What are some of your favourite visualizations?
I’m a very big fan of Santiago Ortiz’s Moebio project and, specifically, his visualization that broke down The Iliad by the number of times each character’s name appears in each book of the poem. Having read classics at university, I thought this was a bit of a cheat sheet that I could really have done with ten years ago! It was an interesting way of looking at something that you wouldn’t think was necessarily data. It provides structure to what is otherwise unstructured information.
*Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada