In techlandia, quantified self-ism is all the rage. I know, shocker, eh? People are measuring and publishing the measurements of everything from miles ran to books written to photos 'grammed. A lot of this data is, by nature, mundane, but email, thanks to its veneer of privacy, turns out to be a pretty rich source. And, while the layman-ready visualization tools  aren't specifically designed to display email, many of them do so quite nicely. (Or, quite nicely if you're a teensy bit less of a layman than I. )

You can use the following three tools to find and publish all sorts of insights about your email behavior. All are free, and available online, though Google Fusion Tables does require you to have a Google account. 

Also, the example visualizations come from one of our test accounts. Betsy Gander is a formidable salesperson, but her newsletter taste is, erm, eclectic. 

 

Prerequisite: 

Before you start visualizing your inbox, you need to export your messages to a .csv file, and save that as an Excel spreadsheet. I'm not going to give a detailed explanation of this, because there are better ones for Gmail here and Outlook here.

All set? Let's get started.

Visualization method 1: Google Fusion Tables

Google Fusion Tables lets you turn spreadsheets into a number of visualizations. I first heard of it at a data journalism talk Simon Rogers gave at last year's Strata Conference, vowed to start using it at once, forgot my vow, and then recently remembered it. I'm glad I did--Fusion Tables give pretty rad results for almost zero effort. 

Steps:

  1. Go to google.com/fusiontables
  2. Under the Fusion Table image, click Create New table
  3. Upload your Excel doc and click "next." Fusion Tables will show a preview. If it works for you, name your table and click "finish."
  4. In the table, after "cards," you should see a + tab. Click on "add chart."
  5. Choose the type of chart you want. I chose Network Graph because I wanted to compare the connections between two variables--sender and subject.
  6. Choose which variables you want to link
  7. To publish, click on "chart" again, and then "publish." Fusion Tables will spit out html you can embed, along with a link to share.

Visualization Method 2: Wordle

wordle email visualization

Wordle creates word clouds weighted by frequency. You can use to it see who emails you the most, which words appear most frequently in the body of emails, or, as I've done, which words appear most frequently in the subject line.

Steps: 

1) Go to wordle.net/create

2) Paste your desired column(s) into the text box

3) Tweak layout, colors, fonts, and more. 

Note: you have have to do some cleaning to get nice results--I had to remove a bunch of tagged urls and numeric strings.

Visualization method 3: Many Eyes

many eyes email visualization

Many Eyes is amazing. Like Fusion Tables, it lets you turn datasets into a number of visualizations, only Many Eyes has more variety, and works with free text, but doesn't give you your data in a dynamic table. I don't know why it doesn't get the sort of lip-service Tableau gets, especially when you consider it's completely free and runs in the browser. 

Steps: 

1) Go to http://www-958.ibm.com/software/analytics/manyeyes

2) You're going to have to create an account to upload a dataset. Trusting you can figure this out yourself.

3) All set? Under "Participate," click "Create a dataset"

4) Copy your entire spreadsheet, or just the part you want to visualize, and paste it into the text box. Fill in the necessary information about your dataset. Press "create."

5) Now you get to choose which visualization you'd like. I chose the Phrase Net, because I wanted to see how words related to each other. Once you've chosen, Many Eyes will create a visualization that you can then customize and publish.

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