Viegas admits that neither she nor Wattenberg expected a community interested in Bible statistics to be the first group to explore the potential of Many Eyes, but it made sense. “Here’s a community that has a lot of data sets and comes to Many Eyes to visualize it,” Viegas says. “They were blogging about the content, and there was a conversation about it.” She says that soon after crossway posted Jesus’ social network, numerous other visualizations using Bible data sets cropped up on the site.
The visualizations have also helped people see unexpected results from data. “Once you know exactly what you’re looking for [in your data], you can write a computer program to find it,” says Wattenberg. “But visualization really shines when you don’t know what you’re looking for.” A visualization can, for example, make it far easier to spot an erroneous piece of data that would otherwise be lost in a standard computer analysis that, say, averages out the numbers.
So far, Many Eyes has garnered a lot of positive responses from the data-visualization community. The University of Maryland’s Shneiderman even uses it to teach a graduate seminar. “Many Eyes is a wonderful gift to the information-visualization community, demonstrating the power of Web-based collaborative designs,” he says.
While Many Eyes has found a place among amateur and professional dataphiles, it’s also an important tool for IBM research. IBM makes a business out of developing software to help other businesses run more efficiently. It hopes that by watching the behavior of Many Eyes’ users, it can add features to its business software that can make it better, thereby helping people uncover trends in their organizations much more easily. And as IBM learns more, that knowledge could lead to new social data-visualization tools that help uncover hidden information. “There are a lot of Excel spreadsheets floating around that people need to analyze,” says Viegas.