You’ve got to hand it to the marketing folks at Business Objects: they’ve got balls. They don’t hesitate to make claims that are backed up by nothing but illusion. With the introduction of their new website called Business Objects Insight, however, they’ve taken marketing chutzpah to a whole new level. Want to solve the world’s great problems? Welcome to Business Objects Insight, the “world’s first mind grid,” the only site that provides “tools for data visualization, data collaboration, and a platform to publish challenges to the online community.” The challenges take on great problems of the modern world, such as global warming. Ignoring the fact that they are not the only site that does this (I’ll tell you about Many Eye’s in a moment), let’s look at what they’re actually providing.
Data visualization: What they call data visualization is really just Crystal Xcelsius, their product that makes the analysis and presentation of data look like a video game and work about as effectively as a eunuch in heat.
Data collaboration: I can’t tell that any collaborative functionality has been built into the site, other than a blog and the fact that people can display their Xcelsius applications there and others can look at and use them. As far as data collaboration goes, this is rather anemic.
Platform for challenges: This isn’t really a feature; it’s the declared purpose of the site. Participants are being challenged to develop data visualization’s using Xcelsius that are designed to solve major world problems. And why should people make the effort to save the world and why should they channel their world-saving talent into learning and using Xcelsius to do so? Because Business Objects is going to pay a heart-stopping million dollars to the creators of the best world-saving applications (or actually “up to a million dollars”, which, if you think about it could actually mean nothing at all).
This strikes me as a thinly-veiled marketing scheme to sell more copies of Xcelsius under the guise of solving world problems. Business Objects’ founder and Chairman Bernard Liautard declares:
Today the world becomes more intelligent. While there are a number of sites dedicated to aggregating and analyzing data, Insight is unique in providing members with tools for data visualization, data collaboration, and a platform to publish challenges to the online community. Our goal is to change the way problems get solved, to work on issues that have a global impact, and to challenge the conventions and paradigms of online communities.
Wow, this is quite a claim. If only Business Objects had the know-how and technology to do it. Until they actually develop or hire some expertise in the field of data visualization, they should stop claiming that they are using visualization methods to tackle even the simplest problems, let alone the great problems that plague our world. And until they have tools that provide effective visualization functionality, rather than the child’s toy of a product called Xcelsius, they should stick to selling data reporting tools that depend on the conventional paradigm of purely text-based displays.
If you’re interested in seeing a site that effectively uses data visualization as a means for people to exchange information and insights related to world problems, and does so in a way that supports true collaboration, take a look at Many Eyes, which was developed by IBM Research. The reason this site succeeds where Business Objects Insight does not is because it was designed by people who are experts in data visualization and data collaboration. Although the folks at Many Eyes are not making any grand claims about saving the world, they are providing a platform that could actually be used to support this effort.
What’s so sad about this is that there are real problems in the world that need solving, but Business Objects Insight, with its dysfunctional tools, will only waste people’s time, frittering away well-intentioned efforts and potentially good ideas that could be better applied elsewhere. If Business Objects really wants to help solve the problems of the world, why not throw their weight behind a data visualization and collaboration site that really works? Perhaps they have an ulterior goal.