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Free tools to help present info visually online

I was at an all-day workshop yesterday at the Toronto Star put on by Robb Montgomery of Visual Editors out of Chicago.

The entire day was about thinking of ways to present info visually to readers of online newspapers or blogs — and probably just as important to smaller outfits with limited resources, how to that for next to nothing.

There are lots of free tools out there that already enjoy a high profile: YouTube, Flickr and Google Maps are some of the heavyweights.

But they’re not alone.

  • quikmaps — As easy as Google is making it to use its maps, quikmaps makes it easier. And like Google Maps, it’s free. Definitely worth a closer look.
  • Scribd — “On Scribd, you can quickly and easily turn nearly any file—including PDF, Word, PowerPoint and Excel—into a Web document and share it with the world,” Scribd’s about page says, and it ain’t lying. It is easy to use and it’s free.
  • Twtpoll — “Twtpoll is a feedback tool that helps you to create and distribute polls/surveys on Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed or on any other social media site,” its home page says. Easy to use and free.
  • Many Eyes — “Many Eyes is a bet on the power of human visual intelligence to find patterns,” the about page says. “Our goal is to ‘democratize’ visualization and to enable a new social kind of data analysis.” I haven’t tried it yet myself, but it seems like the folks at IBM have come up with a cool free tool to create interesting graphs and charts from boring lists of numbers. Worth a closer look.
  • Swivel — “Swivel’s mission is to make data useful,” Swivel’s tour begins. Among other things, this service lets users map geographical data, and plot pie, bar, scatter and line graphs. Free.
  • Utterli — “Utterli lets you share text, pics, video and audio with your friends, even from your mobile phone,” the Utterli folks tell you on the new account page. Looks like a really cool service but I can’t say for sure because I haven’t tried it yet.
  • Zoopy — I haven’t tried this one, either, but it looks like it offers a lot of what Utterli does. “Zoopy is an online and mobile social media community, where users upload, share and interact with videos, photos, audio and notes,” the about page says.
  • VUVOX — This service lets users build cool presentations fairly easily. More than a slideshow and more engaging than a video, the stuff you can do with VUVOX for free is outstanding.
  • CoveritLive — “When you use CoveritLive’s software, your commentary is streaming live onto your web pages or blog, so your readers hear from you immediately after that election result comes in, or that terrible play gets called, or the next time an actor gets bleeped at the Oscars,” the site says. It’s live blogging software, which is cool, and it’s free.

The thing about these great free services is that they’re free — how they make any money I just don’t get.

Still, plenty more services like these are out there waiting to be played with, so go forth and experiment.