The Economist asks if information visualisation can become the next killer app for PCs, just as spreadsheets did 25 years ago. It believes that “Information visualisation is about to go mainstream. While it may not be the killer application some expect, ‘infoviz’ is going to help users to manipulate data in wholly new ways.
The goal of information visualisation is not to analyse data gathered from, say, tornadoes or nuclear explosions (that is called scientific visualisation). Instead, it aims to create a computer user-interface that is better than today’s desktop metaphorso that people can get their arms (or, rather, their eyes) around the ever-increasing amount of information stored in corporate computer systems, available on the internet, or kept on PCs.
Information visualisation is becoming more widespreadparticularly in corporations, as part of enterprise-software packages. For one thing, the digital plumbing is now in place. More and more data are kept in a structured way (ie, in a format that can easily be digested by visualisation programs) or can be converted into such a format by special software tools. The spread of XML (short for the eXtensible Markup Language) also makes it much easier to tag data and integrate information from different sources.
Most important, the search for further cost reductions is driving firms to use visualisation tools. Having automated many of their business processes, companies now collect huge amounts of data that they want to analyse to gain a competitive edge. After rounds of lay-offs, companies have fewer people to take complex decisionsa shortage that better software tools can help to alleviate.