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Free Site Aims to be YouTube of Data Visualization lets users load data and publish interactive charts on blogs, Web sites and Twitter feeds.

Videos, photos and snippets of text are the stuff of social networking. But data is typically a second-class citizen. Tableau Software is hoping to change that with today's launch of, a free site that lets you create compelling data visualizations and publish them to blogs, Web sites and Twitter feeds.

Tableau's site marries its recognized data visualization technology with embedding capabilities popularized by the likes of Flickr and YouTube. The result gives data-minded collaborators a way to illustrate data. To give it a try, hover your mouse over the trend lines shown in the chart below and you'll see the comparative IPO trajectories of 100 technology companies. The visualization instantly shows the historical difference between, say, "rocket ship" Sybase and "slow burner" SPSS.

This "Tale of 100 Entrepreneurs" chart was developed by the Wall Street Journal, but there's no such thing as protected information or copyrights on this site. All visualizations developed on become, well, public.

"It's about making visualizations shareable and enabling conversations around data," says Elissa Fink, Tableau's vice president of marketing. "Once you publish, the data and the graphics are right there on the Web."

No special browser plug-ins are required to view Tableaupublic visualizations. But if you want to develop charts and graphs, you'll need to download an add-in that lets you upload Access database files, Excel spreadsheets and text files. Storage is limited to 50 megabytes per registered user.

Tableau's hope, of course, is that data jockeys using the site will fall in love with its visualization capabilities, which include everything from bar, line and area charts to data maps, scatterplots and sparklines. These visualization features (plus many more options and supported data types) are available through the company's $999 Tableau Desktop Personal Edition and $1,800 Professional Edition, both of which run on Windows PCs. The company also offers a server-based product that supports multi-user development and collaboration.

Should Google ever decide to put a simple GUI in front of its Google Charts API, might face competition (though Google's charts aren't interactive). But Tableau Software is a best-of-breed vendor in its niche, so it's not likely to be outmatched on data visualization capabilities.

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