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Cambridge-based Exaptive wants to create an app store for data visualization tools

Posted by Scott Kirsner  December 3, 2013 10:20 AM

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Plenty of people work with big datasets that don't exactly spring to life with bar graphs or spider charts. So what if there was an app store for visualization tools that offered just the right thing for exploring, manipulating, and wringing insights from your data?

A six-person Cambridge startup called Exaptive is working on it, creating a collection of visualization "building blocks" that can be assembled in different ways to get new views into datasets. "If you're trying to develop new treatments for a disease, you might want to see a heat map of the genes that are varying the most in the disease, but also have a word cloud next to it to see what researchers are saying about how those genes work, from all the PubMed articles about them," says Dave King, Exaptive's CEO and co-founder. (King is on the right in the photo, with co-founder and COO Michael Perez.) King started the company in 2012; Perez joined him earlier this year.

exaptive3.jpgThe startup has already been collaborating on data visualizations with early users at Harvard's Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, the Accelerated Cure Project for Multiple Sclerosis, and geoscientists at Penn State. Exaptive's initial focus has been on working with early users to build custom visualizations for their data sets, but now it is starting to license its platform to customers who want to create their own visualizations. Eventually, King says that Exaptive hopes to create an app store or marketplace where anyone can sell visualization modules they have built, buy modules they need, and even combine two or more modules. King and Perez refer to these modules as "Xaps" (pronounced "zaps"), and say they can be written in various programming languages like PHP, Python, and R.

"Data visualization is a hugely powerful tool," says King. "It lets computers do what they're good at, and then it enables humans to identify what's interesting in the data set." Earlier this year, the company has raised a small seed round of funding from friends and family, and it is already cash flow positive.

Video demo is below, as is a screenshot of Exaptive's software used to explore a scientific research dataset related to multiple sclerosis.

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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