Fineo Creates Tufte-Worthy Diagrams With Just A Few Clicks

The free web application transforms data into Sankey diagrams on demand.

You may not know what a "Sankey diagram" is, but you've almost certainly seen them before. They're a specific way of visualizing how things flow from one state to another, and in what quantities. The classic infographic of Napoleon's disastrous march to Moscow is a Sankey diagram: It starts out with a big thick band that narrows and splits off to illustrate how many soldiers died and deserted along the route. Sankey diagrams, while beautiful, are pretty labor-intensive to make. But now there's a free web application called Fineo that can auto-generate one of these babies out of whatever data you upload into it.


Density Design created Fineo to solve its own internal problem: "We needed a generative and
streamlined way to create this kind of visualization," Paolo Ciuccarelli, Density's scientific director, tells Co.Design via email. "Then other people/scholars/researchers found it useful, and this convinced us to share it in a more public way." Ciuccarelli says that Density is planning to keep Fineo "completely free" even as they continue to refine its performance.

Nathan Yau of FlowingData has quibbled with Fineo's definition of what constitutes a "true" Sankey diagram, but the tool was apparently good enough for the researchers at Stanford's Mapping the Republic of Letters project; Ciuccarelli says that they used Fineo internally as a visualization tool.


So what good is Fineo for the rest of us? Even as an imperfect prototype, it's pretty darn cool for exploring the basics of data visualization firsthand — in other words, a great interactive teaching tool. It could even appeal to someone who just wants to turn data into visual art without too much "process" getting in the way: upload some .csv files, see what happens, repeat. Is that so wrong?

[Read more about Fineo and try it here]

Add New Comment


  • DensityDesign

    This is not just ParSets with curved lines. It is something really different in the way it handles data and dimensional axis. If you want, here you can find some deeper explanations even assuming that it is “just ParSets with curved lines”, it would be a great improvement, since the less the ribbons (the straight lines used in ParSets) are perpendicular, the more they distort the value they convey.Anyway, focusing the discussion only on similarities and differences between visual models is not perhaps a fruitful conversation. Perhaps, more interesting is to shift the focus on goals and contexts these tools involve. To focus on their development, their use and the visualizations they feature, in order to help people to find their personal way to explore and visualize their data.The EGAN model seems designed just for expert users “to help bench biologists interpret gene lists (i.e. top-hits) that were produced by different types of high-throughput omics (i.e. genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics, etc.) experiments”.On the contrary, Fineo is meant to be used by people interested in having a rapid insight on “hairy” data, working for first data explorations as well as for public presentation purposes.Nevertheless, we must admit that we are not fully aware about EGAN capabilities, but as far as we can see from the paper you linked, the association node (metanode) model could have really big troubles in being understandable with huge networks (thousands of nodes).Who is actually using Fineo for academic or scientific purposes, really appreciate the possibility to explore their network without having to cope with messy hairballs graphs. With this being said, personally, there's no accounting for taste!