Have you found spreadsheet analysis in Excel, Numbers, Open Office or other packages good, but want something more? You should be delighted to hear that Google Fusion Tables is now available for Google Apps at the University of Minnesota. If you've heard about Fusion Tables (or never heard) but wonder what all the hullabaloo is about, and why this could be important, let's get a quick overview.
Fusion Tables offers a wide-range of functionality. How significant each function is depends on what you plan to do. First off, the ability to handle bigger data means you can filter and summarize across hundreds of thousands (1,000,000) of rows, then make a chart, map, network graph or layout of your own design. Second, you can combine large data sets to be able to visualize both sets of data. Third, you can keep your data online and decide if it's private, or how you want to share it--with the world, or just members of a research team for collaboration. Since all the data is on your Google Drive it's as easy to manage as your other data. Related to this, you can also find many thousands of public Fusion Tables from individuals and from public data. Last, you can publish your visualization to the web or download for preparing other publications.
Set up is not an issue and you also can install Fusion Tables as a Google Chrome plugin. Since most of the Google Earth visualizations use html for formatting, the conventions are largely there already. And of course you can also use the Fusion Tables API for online applications.
Beyond charts and network graphs, the ability to make a map in minutes--and an interactive map to boot--is extremely valuable. Simply import the data, map the data, and then modify the information that pops-up when you select a mapped location. The process can be involved for larger and more complicated data sets, but nothing that should overwhelm you.
Finally, let's close with this thought. If spreadsheet analysis is still working fine for you, should the need or desire arise you can always copy that spreadsheet to your Google Drive and from there bring it into Fusion Tables. Or maybe you don't need all the power of Fusion Tables analytics, but you would like to try it and be ready to take advantage. The tutorials are a great resource for getting an introduction to the broad range of functions supported by Google Tables. Fusion Tables could offer the tools and be that slicer-dicer you've always looked for to analyze and visualize your data.
Professor Francis Harvey, Department of Geography, Environment and Society