Thursday, October 14, 2010

Whatever happened to Swivel was a popular data visualization site that recently failed as a business. Some information is starting to trickle out about what happened, through an interview with its founders. Some choice quotes. First, expenditure:
We got a Round A funding of two million dollars. By the time I left, we had spent about three to four million dollars on the idea.
Second, income:
[How many paying users did you have in the end?] It was single digits
Ouch. Lessons learned? I'm cherry-picking my favorite here:
I think what we learned, like Roseman is saying, that the interface is not that important, that there are analysts who are really good at tools like R, SAS, etc. and prefer to continue to work in those tools to do powerful things with datasets.
Please read the article for the full context. I just wanted to highlight this point, which I think may be important for the Data Commons Project. I think it argues for letting people maintain their data with the tools they are expert with, rather than expecting them to use a new service. My personal theory is that distributed revision control systems are the way to go for collaborative data projects. Web-based services could be part of such a distributed ecosystem, but would not be its "hub".

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