Dipity taps data for infographics and revenue

Easy-to-use timelines catch on with consumers and publishers.

DipityDipity, a service that lets users create and embed interactive timelines, has grown to 8.5 million users since opening to the public in 2008.

The service’s timelines range from static, one-off graphics to living infographics that update via data feeds. The Huffington Post and Washington Post are using Dipity, and earlier this year the Seattle Times incorporated Dipity into their Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of a breaking news story.

In the following interview, Dipity co-founder and CEO Derek Dukes (@ddukes) discusses the company’s genesis, its business model, and the opportunities attached to rich datasets.

How did Dipity come about?

Strata 2011Derek Dukes: We started a couple years ago. We’ve focused on giving people the easiest possible tools to create timelines from a variety of different content sources. Over the last year or so, we’ve really started to get most of our traction. That was based on providing two services:

  1. Letting someone like the Washington Post or government agencies take datasets, showcase them, and surface data in interesting ways.
  2. Giving consumers the tools to make their own timelines with data from across the web.

When we first started, we saw the rate at which people were publishing information was increasing, based on YouTube and Twitter and other services. It seemed there was no great way to take that velocity of information and make sense out of it. We thought about what it would mean if you organize information on timelines, using tools to summarize a particular event or a particular happening.

An advantage here is that datasets are largely open. You can pull selected data from a variety of different services and create something that’s really interesting. You can then continue to keep that updated on an ongoing basis, going back to those services over time and pulling more relevant information as the story unfolds.

What’s driving interest in data visualizations?

DD: There are three things that are happening in the consumer market that are growing the market for data visualization. First, there’s more data to do interesting things with, which wasn’t true three or four years ago.

The second thing is that because we have touch interface tablets and high-resolution monitors, people expect to be able to do something interesting with data. It’s not enough just to publish data in real-time anymore. Meaning and understanding have to be extracted from the data in interesting ways.

Third, with the advance of browser technology and increasing adoption of HTML5, things that were technically very difficult are now easier to roll out and scale. It’s not like we have to build a one-off custom Flash applet that takes advantage of a limited data set. You now can build a robust platform in HTML5 that can use a variety of different data sources.

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Where do you see the market for data visualizations going?

DD: Infographics will become living objects. They won’t just be snapshots of data. They will change over time. I also think data visualizations are emergent in the same way that web video was emergent. Prior to 2005, the only people who could put video online were big corporations, because the tools and the cost structure were limited. The ability to create embedded video didn’t really exist. Then YouTube made it something that everybody could do. Data visualization is on the precipice of that as well.

How does your business model work?

DD: Our free product is ad supported and our paid product is not. The premium version comes with additional functionality and deeper integration options.

Right now, about a third of our revenue comes from the free users through advertising and about two thirds of our revenue comes through freemium subscriptions. In the premium model, our paid products start at $4.95 per month and they go all the way up to $1,000 per month, plus some incremental integration work.

[Note: Dipity’s products and plans are outlined here.]

The fact that people are creating content, and that content is getting all over the web, serves two purposes. First, there’s a marketing component. Second, generally speaking, we wind up seeing some percentage of the traffic whenever a timeline gets embedded. We can monetize or convert those users and get them on board.

More importantly, having a large base of consumers creating content really helps you understand the problems people are going to encounter or the features they want. We can see, based upon usage or requests, where the roadmap should be over the next 12 months.

The Internet Memes timeline on Dipity.

How can visualizations help businesses with their own data?

Think about Google. Google sits on a huge volume of data. They choose to visualize and sort that data in a particular way that becomes useful. The consumer simply wants to get something out of the data. It could be getting a link to a relevant website or finding out what happened on the Bay Bridge this morning. The goal is to move from a big dataset into understanding.

For companies that sit on big datasets, the ability to create interfaces that are rich and engaging on top of that data seems important. If you focus on creating an interface that improves the understanding of the dataset, as long as the data is interesting, you should be in a pretty good position.

We’re still in a time where consumers’ expectations are evolving. Timelines seem to be a good visualization for most people. Geolocation — data plus maps — seems to be working. Heatmaps seem to be the next wave of that, in terms of visualizations that make sense. Tag clouds had their day in the sun, but we’re moving from static tag clouds to dynamic tag clouds, which makes them more interesting. It’s too early to say what the best approach is going to be, but there’s definitely an opportunity for companies with rich datasets.

This interview was edited and condensed.


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