In Pictures: 8 cool heat maps that help visualise Big Data

Big or small, data can be difficult to visualise. These examples use heat maps to put massive data sets into a context that's easy to understand.

  • A heat map is one of the great innovations of visual communication. In an instant, you can spot a weather formation and judge the seriousness of the storm, or see the heaviest concentrations of U.S. Internet outages. We're already inundated with too much information — Twitter feeds, status updates, email archives, etc. — but a heat map represents a good way for upper level management to see problems and successes instantly. The heat maps featured here communicate massive data sets in a way that few images can accomplish.

  • RMS: Measuring Risk by Location Risk isn't always easy to perceive. There are many factors involved, from the cost of the risk to its long-term effects. This heat map, provided by the risk management company RMS, displays risks related to catastrophic events: earthquakes, hurricanes, severe storms (including tornados and hail), wind storms, wildfires and volcanoes. An insurance company might use it to determine the "probability of loss" related to such an event. The data comes from an internal database operated by RMS.

  • Outage Analyzer: Worldwide Web Outage Tracker Compuware's Outage Analyzer provides a heat map tool to see Web services outages across the world. If you click on a red marker, you can see the start and end time, duration and areas of the world affected by the outage. Compuware uses Hadoop and Flume Big Data to monitor outages, collecting 8 billion data points from about 1,500 Web services each day. Companies can use the data to see the effects of Web service outages and track how often they occur.

  • Trulia: Local Real Estate Maps Real estate heat maps cull data from a variety of sources. In the image here, you can see a visual representation of crime by geographic region to help determine where you want to live. That data is pulled from and For natural hazards, data comes from agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service. This year, Trulia added data for home and rental property prices, too.

  • ThreatMatrix: Web Fraud Map Most IT experts know that Web fraud is a persistent problem. This heat map shows the reality of fraud attempts in real-time using live data. A red dot pops up to show a fraud attempt. ThreatMatrix culls the data from 1,950 customers, which includes about 9,000 websites, and tracks about 360,000 cyberattacks per day. Customers can use the data to correlate the high-number of attacks with their threat detection and blocking.

  • Foursquare Check-ins: See How People Move One of the most enlightening collections of heat maps in recent months, these video heat maps show Foursquare check-ins in major global cities such as San Francisco and Chicago. In London, you can see how commuters flock to the center of town. In Tokyo, there's an obvious influx on trains that arrive right on time. The data is used mostly for information purposes to show how many people are checking in, but city planners could use the data to see traffic movements or where to better direct services.

  • MarketProphit: A Social Stock Index One of the best visual representations of financial trends, this heat map from MarketProphit shows buzz and sentiment around specific stocks. The larger blocks indicate the most buzz (or discussion) around a stock as culled from Twitter. The colors show sentiment; the red blocks denote negative comments and the green denotes positive comments. In an instant, financial planners can see general trends with stocks based on social media posts.

  • City of Portland: When Every Structure in Town Was Built This heat map looks like a work of art, but it actually shows the age of buildings in the Portland, Ore. area. About 544,000 structures are represented, including about 4,500 erected in the 1800s and 10,265 buildings constructed in 1978 alone. Justin Palmer created the heat maps based on public data released by the City of Portland. There's a similar map for the nearly 10 million buildings in the Netherlands; some in central Amsterdam are more than 1,000 years old. This can help municipalities see which neighborhoods hold the greatest concentration of structures that may need repairs.

  • RetailNext: In-store Shopping Patterns This heat map might seem a bit unimpressive at first, as it looks like a big color blotch. It's showing the movements of actual customers in a retail store aisle, though. Red areas represent the spots where most customers shop. Retailers can use the heat map for product placements and to see whether a sales campaign was successful. RetailNext pulls the data from video cameras in the store, Wi-Fi networks and other sensors in the store that track customer movement.

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