Nov 29, 2009 7:12 am by Kip Kniskern | 2 comments
We’ve been giving away Live Labs Pivot codes (and yes, we have more to share later on in this post), but after returning from PDC and learning a bit about the new “experiment” from Live Labs, we’ve finally been able to create a Pivot of our own. While it’s not perfect, we had fun creating our first Pivot, and even more fun playing with it. After a couple of trial runs, we were able to create a Pivot using Excel, literally without writing any code. Here’s the story..
What is Pivot?
First, a bit of background. Dr. Gary Flake introduced Pivot at PDC (you can watch his one hour presentation here, highly recommended). The Pivot web site (www.getpivot.com) describes the latest project from Live Labs:
Pivot makes it easier to interact with massive amounts of data in ways that are powerful, informative, and fun. We tried to step back and design an interaction model that accommodates the complexity and scale of information rather than the traditional structure of the Web.
Basically, by installing Pivot (there are some requirements, listed in the FAQ), you can browse Pivot Collections, or create your own, either programmatically, or by installing an Excel plug-in and creating a spreadsheet that will create a Pivot for you. That’s what I did.
A ready-made dataset: Microsoft Executives
I’ve always wanted to be able to put together a way to organize and explore Microsoft’s organization, and so using the information on Microsoft’s leadership on Press Pass seemed like a nice ready made set of data to put into Pivot. Each Microsoft executive has his/her own page on Press Pass, with a picture, title, and a short bio. It took a little while, but I was able to capture the images and the information and added them to the Pivot add-in for Excel:
It would have taken me longer to learn how to automate getting the information than it would to just capture it by hand, so that’s what I did, starting with the images. From there, I created a few columns of information (I added a column called “keyword” where I gave each exec a tag, other than that the info came straight from the website. Not sure that this was necessary, given the search capabilities of Pivot, but hey it’s a work in progress). Once I was done (the whole operation took maybe 4 or 5 hours), I hit “Publish Collection”, and the add-in created a .cxml file, and a folder of Deep Zoom files. I uploaded these to a web server, and by pointing the Pivot browser at www.jkipk.com/MSOrgPivotComplete.cxml, you can check out how many Corporate Vice Presidents there are at Microsoft (96), and get quick links to the biographies of any of the Technical Fellows or Distinguished Engineers, or just watch Ballmer and Co. zoom around the screen. Here’s a couple of screenshots, which don’t do the experience justice at all:
Well, that was fun
Creating this first Pivot was a fun learning experience, but of course there are things I want to do better next time. The bio pics on Press Pass aren’t high resolution, which takes some of the fun out of the Deep Zoom experience, although in this scenario that doesn’t matter much (do we really need to explore Steve Ballmer’s bald head in detail?). I’d like to add some more data fields, and expand the scope of the project to include product teams, blogs, etc., but first impressions are that using Pivot is a different, and better, experience for visualizing and organizing data than almost anything available now, and it was really very simple to create a working example of what Pivot can do. Got an idea for how to make this first attempt better? Let us know in the comments!
Learn more, and try it yourself
I’m hosting the Microsoft Executive Pivot for the time being on http://www.msorgpivot.net (edited to point to new url) (plug the url into Pivot, or you’ll just see the xml – not nearly as fun). By the way hosting the Pivot is pretty straightforward, I just uploaded the .cxml and the Deep Zoom folder that Pivot creates to the web server, all I had to do (in Windows Server 2008) was register the MIME type for the .cxml. Of course you’re going to need Pivot to check out this or any other collection, so if you didn’t get a code from our Twitter account, we scored some more (thanks to the guys at the Pivot booth at PDC, especially Bill Crow!). Each code is good for 10 installs, you can download the app at www.getpivot.com. Here’s 50 installs:
A7EB A310 7633 F445
93EF 4697 A93A 057D
2CA0 1BB5 E3F9 A071
AEF8 1946 135F 0CA0
5458 79BF A7E8 CC69
Have fun, and let us know what you’re doing with Pivot, and what you think. Need more codes? Ask nice in the comments.
UPDATE: According to Philipp in the comments, all the codes are gone (sorry have no way to track them). We have more, will be posting them on our Twitter account throughout the day