GOOGLE INC. has acquired software that has enormous potential to help investors of all types make sense of large volumes of financial and stock market data.
The powerful Trendalyzer software, developed by the Gapminder Foundation in Sweden, creates animated charts from dull data in ways that investors of all persuasions will find both more appealing and elucidating.
|Trendalyzer creates animated views of large amounts of data.|
Marissa Mayer, Google’s VP Search Products & User Experience, wrote in a blog post Friday that “Trendalyzer will improve any function or application in which data might be better visualized.”
Without mentioning specific areas where it would be used, Mayer said Google would make the software “freely available to any and all users.”
Google offers free online spreadsheet software where anyone can upload and share spreadsheets, but the application lacks the charting functionality available in offline spreadsheet software like Excel.
However, according to a 2006 review in BusinessWeek, Trendalyzer “can also accept imported Microsoft Excel files,” suggesting that integration of the graphing tool with Google spreadsheets looks likely.
The company also runs the Google Finance website, which could be a good place for the Trendalyzer software to be put to use, possibly for something like mutual fund data that Google does not currently provide.
Established precedent on investor relations sites
Visual presentations of financial data are nothing new to corporate investor relations websites. Virginia-based enumerate struck a deal in June 2002 with the Thomson Financial-acquired IR website hosting service CCBN to offer its Java-based numeric presentation software to corporate investor relations departments in the U.S. A similar deal was made with UK-based Investis, which hosts many European companies’ IR websites.
Oil giant BP plc uses enumerate-based software for its interactive analyst financial data charting tool and for its energy data, while drilling company Baker Hughs uses the same approach for its widely followed rig counts.
However, Google’s Trendalyzer software produces a much better product for mainstream web users. Since the data viewer is Flash-based, it loads faster, and mostly doesn’t require users to install additional software. Trendalyzer charts also offer animated time series data, which makes viewing the information more interesting.
You can see a Trendalyzer example in the Gapminder World 2006 beta application (see screenshot above). Very handy, too, is that you can provide a link for people to see a specific chart, like this one to an animated bubblechart showing Carbon dioxide emissions for a range of countries.
On its website, Gapminder says it best when it explains that Trendalyzer software “unveils the beauty of statistics by converting boring numbers into enjoyable interactive animations.”
Making data like XBRL more useful?
It’s not clear what Google’s plans are for Trendalyzer, but lets hope the company sees the financial space as one of the priorities.
I’d love to see Trendalyzer integrated with Google Docs and Spreadsheets. It would be great as a tool for making sense of XBRL financial data from the Securities and Exchange Commission, FDIC call reports and even the Shanghai Stock Exchange.
Of course, there are serious questions about the accessibility of rich internet applications such as Trendalyzer to blind and other disabled users. I also recommend that if you link to a Trendalyzer chart that you code the links to open in a new browser window. This is because users could have trouble using the “back button” to return to your site if they play around with the charts for a while. Each view change users make creates a separate page in the browser’s history.
However, for anyone with an interest in communicating complex, boring data in ways that can engage and empower, Google is making things a lot more interesting.
Related: Graphing the Development Gap (BusinessWeek, Feb. 22, 2006)