Online Data and Charts with Swivel

by Stubborn Mule on 10 August 2008 · 13 comments

I recently came across the OECD Factbook blog written by Jérôme Cukier, who works as a data editor for the OECD. He has an excellent post on publishing charts in blogs.

As regular readers of the Mule will know, I don’t mind posting the odd chart and in the process I have grappled with the less than ideal results that the Excel to image production-cycle can produce. Jérôme’s process discusses these challenges and illustrates the results of different techniques (although I had more luck with copying as a picture and saving to PNG format than he had, so perhaps the choice of picture editor is a factor as well). As far as possible, I try to avoid using Excel altogether for producing charts and instead use the statistical package R, which can produce charts directly to a number of image formats including JPG and PNG. Although Jérôme doesn’t mention R, it does crop up in the first of the comments on his post.

Jérôme also examines a number of online graphics services that were all new to me. Of these, I found Swivel particularly interesting. The site was established in December 2005 (giving it excellent early-mover Web 2.0 credentials) and allows users to easily upload, share and explore data. As an example, I uploaded the Starbucks data from my previous post and here is the chart that Swivel produced.

A Turning Point in the Growth of Starbucks?

Seeing me playing around with Swivel, Michael Michael suggested that I produce a chart of the Beijing 2008 Olympic medal tally as it unfolds. I took up the challenge, which was probably rash as I will now feel obliged to keep it up to date. Here are the results so far.

Medal Count by Country
Beijing 2008 Medal Tally

The data itself is here and a chart with the overall medal tally for each country is here.

I will continue to experiment with Swivel, as well as the IBM offering, Many Eyes, so you can expect to see a few more online charts featured here. As a start, following on from an earlier post on declining CD sales in Australia, I have posted ARIA album sales data for CD, cassette, vinyl and digital formats from 2002 to 2007. If you are keen, you can also keep an eye on my Swivel page.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 dan August 12, 2008 at 3:30 pm

when you have some time, i would like your thoughts on hyperinflation. specifically how zimbabwe today, compares to weimar germany (and other historic cases of hyperinflation).

so while you are fiddling with graphing software, perhaps you could bring forward the graph that the nytimes published a couple of years ago:

and then add in a line for weimar.

only if you’ve got time.


2 stubbornmule August 12, 2008 at 4:59 pm

@dan: Thanks for the suggestion. I’ll have a look!

3 Bast August 15, 2008 at 2:51 pm

I notice you haven’t included Canada in your medal count graphic. Oh ….. wait a minute… never mind. [Big, huge sigh and hanging of head in national shame…]

4 Bast August 15, 2008 at 2:53 pm

Can I just add we are, actually, more of a winter Olympics kind of country…roll on Vancouver 2010!

5 stubbornmule August 15, 2008 at 5:50 pm

@Bast: Australia really needs everyone to fall over each other to win medals at the Winter Olympics.

6 stubbornmule August 16, 2008 at 4:57 pm

I ended up automating the process somewhat by writing a perl data-scraping script to pull down the medal count from the official web-site. If anyone is interested, the script ( is available here:

7 stubbornmule August 17, 2008 at 12:55 am

@Bast: Canada has medals now!

8 stubbornmule August 21, 2008 at 2:46 pm

@dan: While you’re waiting for me to say something about inflation in Zimbabwe, you might find this of interest.

9 Anonymous March 29, 2011 at 11:37 am

Swivel closed up shop in late 2010, leaving an interesting interview with the founders detailing the story:

Interestingly, packed it in at about the same time. IBM’s Many Eyes continues, as does Tableau.

The image placeholders on this blog post are perhaps a Web 2.0 cautionary tale. ;)

10 Stubborn Mule March 29, 2011 at 11:50 am

A cautionary tale indeed! In hindsight I which I’d taken screenshot of the charts at the time. Thanks for the link too.

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