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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I'll Miss Swivel

A few years ago the ICPSR Director at the time (Myron Gutmann) told me about a new data visualization service he had come across:  Swivel.  I found the site, created an account, and started playing with the tools they made available to visualize data.

It seemed like a nice little service, but not much of a competitor for the type of clients that ICPSR typically serves.  For one thing, all of the datasets needed to fit into Excel.

I did take the opportunity to create a public-use dataset of my own.  It was just a little toy dataset that had one row for each year, and where the columns were the annual dues for our neighborhood association for that year, that same amount of money expressed in 1993 CPI dollars, and the maximum amount the dues could have been for that year ($200 in 1993 adjusted by the CPI).  This made it easy to create graphs and images that showed how little the neighborhood dues had gone up over the years.

However, Swivel is no more.  Navigating to the home page of their web site just times out.  I found a nice piece by Robert Kosara where he talks to the founders about what Swivel was, and where things went wrong.  It is a short, interesting read:  the punchline is that they just didn't have any customers.

I think I could probably create the same dataset at Zoho or on Google Docs, but neither one of those has quite the same nice set of features for visualizing the data as Swivel did.

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