How to turn big data into engaging infographics with a single app

demo Knoema

Digesting big data can be migraine-inducing. Knoema wants to make it as easy as scanning a graph.

“With data, we want to do what YouTube did for video,” Vladimir Bougay, founder and CTO of startup Knoema, told VentureBeat in a recent interview.┬áKnoema’s site lets users create their own simple infographics containing tables, charts, maps, images, and text to help them tell a story.

The process is DIY, but the end result is a slick-looking and shareable page that lets you select and display the patterns and trends you find in the data you or anyone else has uploaded. (We’ve included some sample Knoema user-created graphics below.)

That’s the other fun part about Knowma — the data itself. The startup has already collected more than 500 datasets on various topics and slapped a search engine on top to make navigation easier. You can also upload any data you have on hand. You could, if you so chose, mash up your own private data with data from public sources.

“I think it’s one of those businesses that would have increasing returns as people use it,” said Will Price, chief executive at Flite, after watching the company show off its site at the DEMO conference in Santa Clara, Calif. today. “I thought it was a very impressive product.”

Above all, said Bougay, the process is fast. “Users can build tables/charts very quickly, download data in Excel format, save data views, and share them with friends. It takes minutes, not hours,” the founder told us. “If you have a story based on data to tell, you will find all the necessary tools at Knoema.”

You can share data dashboards, complete with links, maps, charts, and graph with other users through the usual variety of social networks. You can also export them to PowerPoint or embed them on blogs or other sites.

But you know who really loves data? Educators. “We have exposed Knoema to a few universities in the U.S.,” said Bougay, “and a number of professors have decided to use Knoema as a platform for teaching.” Columbia Business School, for example, has taken advantage of Knoema for its healthcare business instruction.

Despite the attraction, there are concerns about its business model. “The go-to-market thing might be a challenge and will you have a credibility issue with the data. You know, how we criticize Wikipedia,” said John Dillon, chief executive of Engine Yard.

Bougay points out that open data and big data have been hot topics of late. “However, there is no one common understanding of what all these data issues are about and what does it practically mean for data users,” he said. “While data is all around the web, one would have to go through a number of tedious tasks to put together and share/disseminate a simple data-driven content … There are two practical problems that Knoema is meant to solve: finding relevant data and getting it in a ready-to-use format for content building.”

One of the bigger problems around exploring data is that normal search engines aren’t great at parsing requests for raw data or returning data-focused results, especially results you can immediately use or incorporated into research and story-telling. “The ultimate goal of using data is to make an argument, tell a story, or come up with an informative decision,” said Bougay.

The startup is currently working on adding more visualization options and analytics tools. Knoema is also working on a “simpler and smarter” UI with collaboration features for friends or teams to build dashboards and graphics together.

And, of course, the startup has an eye on developers. Bougay said he wants to make Knoema not just a consumer-facing product but also a platform for data-driven apps from third-party developers.

Knoema was founded in 2011 and is based in Washington, DC, with R&D and data teams located in Perm, Russia and Bangalore, India. Knoema has been bootstrapped to date and is looking for investors that share its vision.

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Knoema is one of 80 companies chosen by VentureBeat to launch at the DEMO Spring 2012 event taking place this week in Silicon Valley. After we make our selections, the chosen companies pay a fee to present. Our coverage of them remains objective.

Top image courtesy of alphaspirit, Shutterstock

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