In the world of a highly visual web, data has remained largely static and visually uninteresting. Visual.ly aims to change that with extensive infographic aggregation and a set of automated graphic data representation tools.
What Visual.ly Is and Why It's Awesome
Ladies and gentlemen, there's a fine line between journalistic reporting on a new project and just gushing over something one thinks is cool. I'm now going to step boldly over that line: This service was clearly made with users like me in mind, and I'm very excited for the potential shift it indicates in visual searching. Now, retreating a bit, let me give you a mix of information on what this service is and why I was pumped to write about it.
You'd be hard-pressed to find people who aren't fans of infographics – graphic representations of otherwise tabled/alpha-numeric/bland data – but if you happen to be someone who hates visuals, Visual.ly isn't the service for you (shocking, I know). Assuming you do like infographics, proceed smiling.
Visual.ly lets you quickly search for any topic and get a listing of charts and graphics, each of which contains varying degrees of data, humor, and so forth. I was previously doing this habitually by conducting highly specific Google image searches, which is a big portion of the reason I'm thrilled.
While Visual.ly isn't a search engine per se (you search only within the infographics provided by site members or partners), the results are still excellent. There are over 2,000 infographics right now, and that number is likely to increase quickly.
Let's give a quick example of a Visual.ly search. The image below is my search result for "beer" (I'm on a diet right now that prevents me from having any, so it's on my mind – constantly):
These graphics are hosted directly on the Visual.ly site, and commenting, Facebook liking, and other social elements are enabled. Users can also create, upload, and share their own data visualizations on the site.
To provide these infographics, Visual.ly has developed a fairly major list of partners. Those partners include "The Atlantic, CNNMoney.com, eBay, Inc., GOOD, OMD, National Geographic, The Next Web, and Smirnoff," according to the press release from Visual.ly. The big thing to note here, though, is that Visual.ly has only been around for three months, and has only been in closed beta, until just now.
That beta test was enough to garner the attention of many partners and about 60,000 beta users. The public launch is likely to continue the snowball growth for this niche search site.
Automated Tools for Data Visualization
Infographic aggregation and searching is cool on its own, but Visual.ly also had another leg to stand on: automated tools that let you create visual representations of large sets of data. Their inaugural tool lets you create a visual representation of your Twitter behavior, including your posting habits, interests, popularity, and connections. Here's the infographic for my own Twitter account (@RobDYoungWrites):
You can check out my full infographic here or, better yet, make one for yourself. This tool isn't an isolated incident, though. As described in the press release, we can expect "a series of other self-service tools that allow visitors to turn huge amounts of data into infographics automatically with Visual.ly."
As always, excited though I may be, I have to wonder how long it will take a more established search site (Google, Bing, or Yahoo) to step in and duplicate the idea as part of their image search. If only for the act of prompting such features elsewhere, though, Visual.ly has me a little bit pumped.