Hubway Data Challenge – Part 3

I’m out of my league.

I’ve seen two submissions for the data challenge already, and yah, some people are really good.  For the rest of who model data and try to create a narrative out of data on a daily basis, a very discrete data set with a very precise way of looking at it is a luxury.  Usually we work with a user population who thinks “I want a dashboard, but I don’t know what I want…can you build it for me?”  Not an issue here…the developers working on this exercise know exactly what they want to see.  The Hubway data set lends itself to being mapped, and while there are a lot of ways to do this, this submission by Russell Goldenberg is very creative.  It can be downloaded as an .app or as an .exe — or previewed (click on the picture to see it on Vimeo).

Then there’s this Neo4j graph database version by Max De Marzi.  I like how the width of the station corresponds to its traffic.

These aren’t dashboards, these are visualizations.  Appealing — yes — but very specific, and custom coded.  I have to keep that in mind, because working with business intelligence tools means that I am often trying to spice up relatively unexciting data.  But MicroStrategy 9.3 and the features added to Visual Insight (as well as the Report Services widget) means that I at least have something to work with now in terms of network maps.  The three layout options are as follows:

  1. force-directed
  2. circular
  3. linear
To put myself in a position to visualize the bike system data I created a cube that had both the bikes and the stations as attributes, as well as the basic metrics (trips, distance, duration).  With these levers to work with I came up three views of the data for bike number B00079 in the months of August 2011 and 2012:
Since dashboards tend to be a collection of visualizations that, when combined, compel the user to quickly glean some information from the data set, these network diagram might have some utility.  If I wanted to create a dashboard that allowed the user to understand what bikes have been used more heavily, the network view along with some numeric stats would be useful for devising a maintenance strategy for bikes.  The trap that I fell into when I first started playing with the network graphs was to try and put a lot of data into it all at once.  Looking at all of the starting and ending stations at once was a mess, but adding the bike attribute narrowed the data set down and brought clarity.
One of the big advantages of Visual Insight is that all of the hooks and interdependencies between data sets are taken care of.  As opposed to a report services dashboard, I don’t need to set the selectors or worry that I’ve forgotten to establish a target data set.  The tradeoff comes with customization, or the lack thereof.  I don’t have a place to drop a customer logo, and I don’t have control over many other things, like the grid formatting.
So, the question comes to this: to make a nice visualization of the Hubway data set, should I create a  dashboard or use Visual Insight?

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