Infogr.am offers quick Web charts

I may be in the minority, but I'm not a fan of the many infographics like this making the rounds on the Internet -- the ones that try to convey information by illustrating lots of numbers in large, pretty type fonts. Sorry, but giving me a pile of numbers in bigger type doesn't help me glean any more insight than I could reading a story. For extracting meaningful information from a pile of data, I much prefer data visualizations such as charts and graphs.

That's why I hadn't paid much attention to European startup Infogr.am, which I saw as more focused on design and typeface than creating graphics that interpret or analyze data. However, a recent revamp now offers users significantly more data visualization options. And as part of my continuing series on free data visualization tools, it was time to give them a closer look.

Infogr.am

What it does: Infogr.am's aim is to help users create publishable graphics in a couple of minutes. Along with those ubiquitous infographics, there's also a "chart" button that offers templates for bar, column line, area, pie and bubble charts; and additional formats such as word clouds, tree maps and geographic maps.

Select a template, upload (or type in) data in a spreadsheet format and add a title, and you should have a graphic that's ready to post on a Web site after you click the publish button and copy some HTML embed code.

What's cool: The graphics look professional -- see a sample below -- and show data details when you mouse over portions of the chart. You can customize a chart's width and color scheme in just a few seconds. And if there's a template that matches your needs, it might indeed only take a couple of minutes to create your graphic.

Drawbacks: There is little documentation on the site, so users have to discover for themselves how it works and what kinds of data each template needs. It may be obvious for a bar chart, but it's not intuitive for every option. For example, the word cloud appears to require a spreadsheet of word frequencies and not, as I was expecting, a text file -- that is, the site won't analyze word frequencies in a text file for you. And I didn't see any explanation of what data the maps will take (as far as I could see, country names only).

I had occasional difficulties clearing sample data and uploading my own. And finally, the ease-of-use goal comes at the expense of customization, even on things like headline size and chart legends.

Skill level: Beginner.

Runs on: Any browser.

Bottom line: I really wanted to like Infogr.am. My first impression is that it's got potential, but it's still a bit limited and rough around the edges for anything beyond basic charts. However, it's also  startup that just launched this year; there's certainly a possibility it will continue to improve. CEO and co-founder Uldis Leiterts says the company is listening to its customers as to what features they want, and the Latvia-based enterprise is being funded and coached by, among others, incubator HackFwd.

If you're looking for a fast, easy way to create a chart for the Web and don't mind being limited to a few templates and having to click around a bit initially to see how it works, this may be a resource worth trying -- or at least keeping an eye on.

Want more on free data tools? Also see:

  Sortable chart: 30+ free tools for data visualization and analysis

  22 free tools for data visualization and analysis

  8 cool tools for data analysis, visualization and presentation

  Startup offers 1-click data analysis

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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