Start-Ups

Startup Infoactive breaks down the design barrier in big data

Next month Infoactive is launching their public beta. SXSW's 'best bootstrapped startup' helps users build infographics without a designer or developer.

 
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Infoactive helps users build data-driven stories.
Image: Infoactive

It's dawning on today's companies that they can use data to cast vision and set goals for the future, rather than just react to it. Having access to data is great, but if you can't present it in a way that makes it easy to understand, it's essentially useless.

Infographics and data visualizations are ways for companies to present data in a simple and artistic manner, but they often require the expertise of a graphic artist and/or developer. Infoactive has created a web-based platform for users to turn their data into beautiful graphics by dragging and dropping data and visual elements.

"I love great design. I want to bring good design to the world of data visualization — and into the process of creating data visualizations," said CEO Trina Chiasson. "Most data tools were never built for design and most design tools were never made to handle data. The goal of Infoactive is to merge these two worlds and help people build beautifully designed infographics without compromising data integrity."

"Most data tools were never built for design and most design tools were never made to handle data." - Trina Chiasson, CEO

With an impressive UX design and interest from big-name client companies, Infoactive, which was named the best bootstrapped startup at SXSW 2013, has the potential to upend the world of digital storytelling.

Interactive art

Chiasson first got the idea for Infoactive after she began looking for data visualization tools to help her present data collected by the nonprofit she was working for at the time. She learned Javascript to create her own infographic, but wanted to create a product that made it easier for users to visualize their data.

Essentially Infoactive allows users to easily upload tons of data and it helps them create an infographic or chart that makes sense. Once the user customizes a theme, or manipulates the CSS to create his or her own theme, they are given an embed code for an interactive infographic. Users are also given a static image to use on sites that don't support interactive content.

The artistic element of the infographics is important, but equally as important is the interactivity features they offer. Users have the option to compare different data sets within an infographic and Infoactive allows users to create dynamic infographics that update with live data.

"We support live data through Google Spreadsheets. For example, if a user has imported a Google spreadsheet that shows the results of a live Google survey, as more people take the survey the infographic will update to reflect the most current data. All embedded examples of the infographic on external sites will also automatically update," Chiasson said.

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Infoactive makes it easy to customize an infographic theme.
Image: Infoactive
 This interactivity is exactly what drew Garrett Heath to Infoactive when he met the team at SXSW. Heath, a content creator for Rackspace, wanted to created an infographic about noSQL that would resonate with developers.

"The interactivity of an Infoactive.co infographic is the major differentiator," Heath said. "Viewers now have the ability to dive into the data and see how it relates to each other, enabling them to draw their own conclusions. Furthermore, this interactivity is also beneficial to the content creator, because they can dynamically see how the information connects to each other, which also helps to draw conclusions."

The use of personal data typically brings concerns from users. Chiasson is adamant that Infoactive doesn't share or sell any imported data and they never will. They are, however, asking private beta users not to upload any sensitive data as they are working on debugging. Moving forward, they are working on new privacy features for users with sensitive data.

Over 20,000 people have signed up to try Infoactive. The company is still in a private beta, but they are planning a public beta launch in March. Users of the private beta get access for free, but the team is planning a $30 per month subscription fee when they open the public beta next month and they are working on other pricing models.

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Infoactive co-founders Trina Chiasson and Daniel Roberts.
Image: Infoactive

How they got here

Chiasson first pitched the idea at Startup Weekend in April 2012 and received a lot of good feedback. Shortly after Chiasson and her team began working on Infoactive, they joined the FounderFuel accelerator in Montreal. They received a couple of small investments at that time that they combined with personal savings keep them funded until they launched their Kickstarter campaign where they raised $55,000 from a goal of only $12,000.

Last year they finished another incubator with Cossette, a communications agency in Canada. Chiasson is currently a fellow at the Reynolds Journalism Institute, where she is working on data visualizations in the newsroom. Kim Garretson, also a fellow at Reynolds, is looking to deploy Infoactive to help with the marketing software he is developing.

"I'll be working with Infoactive to dynamically generate visualizations of the marketing technology landscape for corporate brands, marketers, agencies and media companies," Garretson said. "The problems they face are too many choices in technology from large tech companies and startups, and difficulty in getting on the same page to assess technology on factors like risk, cost, reviews, etc.

"With Infoactive, I am looking at how it can provide a great visual roadmap to help chart a company's path to using new technologies."

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About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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