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The Next YouTube for Charts: iCharts

There's new competition for Swivel and Many Eyes: iCharts. A good name, to be sure, but will they live up to their promise of being "YouTube for Charts" (a claim Swivel also made in the beginning)? A first look at their website suggests that they likely will not.

iCharts is more similar to Swivel than to Many Eyes, both in their limited choice of charts and because they are an independent start-up (whereas Many Eyes is run by IBM). In comparison to Swivel, their vision is quite limited though ("to bring charts online"), and Swivel also had a clear idea how they would eventually make money from the very beginning. I don't see anything resembling that on iCharts (correction: iCharts wants to offer certain features, like embedding of charts in PDF files, to premium users. That's a start, but I'm not convinced that that will be enough.).

Seymour Duncker, one of the co-founders, talks about "lousy-looking charts" in a TechCrucnch50 presentation that they have embedded on their about page, but I don't see how their charts look any better than Excel did many years ago. In fact, the current Excel's charts are a lot prettier, and so are Swivel's. He also claims that there is no good way to create charts online and embed them in web pages, and that is simply not true.

iCharts offers the usual chart types: line charts, bar charts (including stacked), and pie charts (including a way to do concentric donut charts around a pie chart). There is some interaction with mouse-over labels and interactive filtering of axes. The use of the latter is kind of pointless because you can really only zoom in on one axis, there is no way to gain more insight into the data this way. It is possible to add annotations to the chart for explanations and to point to particular elements. This would be cool if it was possible for viewers to add those to the charts (like did), but currently they can only leave old-fashioned comments. Charts can of course be embedded in webpages, just like with Swivel and Many Eyes.

iCharts is clearly a very low-budget operation at the moment. Their whole website looks like very basic and unfinished, including their staff pictures and the horrific video introduction on their about page. Given the artistic credentials of Tyron Montgomery, another co-founder, one would expect quite a bit more.

Another hint is their domain name: (they also own the .org). The .com domain of the same name is owned by a domain squatter. It's not a good sign that they obviously don't have the money to buy that domain. It's not their fault that the domain is taken, or what it is used for, but it reflects badly on them (e.g., when people look for them and find the spam site). And if they become successful, the price for the .com domain will only go up.

They have just opened the site for a public beta, and it is obviously a bit early to tell what they will be able to do. But not only is what I can see right now not exciting, they also fail to present any kind of compelling vision. Bringing charts to the web was a good idea two years ago, but it's been done, and done better than what iCharts currently offers. And if it's only about the same three chart types all over again, I really don't see why the world needs another way to do this.

(Thanks for the link, Jorge.)

See also: Swivel vs. Many Eyes

Posted by Robert Kosara on September 28, 2008.