Data visualization researchers at Harvard’s Center for International Development (CID) have unveiled The Globe of Economic Complexity – an interactive tool which colorfully captures $15 trillion in world trade data in cutting-edge 3D visualizations.

Powered by the UN’s international trade data, the Globe uses “confetti” or dot-based representation to generate dynamic maps, stacked graphs and network diagrams. The Globe is a spin-off of The Atlas online, an interactive tool that takes users on a granular journey by not only visualizing trade, but by tracking changes over time and by helping users identify growth opportunities.

“The Globe allows users to see which parts of the world are still exporting agricultural commodities versus those that have moved onto machinery and more complex products, all in spectacular animation,” said Marcela Escobari, executive director of CID. “Innovations in visualizations like this one help us disseminate our research on how countries grow in an ever more accessible and powerful way.”

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By navigating the Globe’s Geo Maps, users can jump into any country to view its range and volume of exports. The Globe also generates new points of view on the Product Space – a network of product similarities which details nearly 800 products into 15 color-coded industries – by vertically stacking products in 2D representation or by using a novel 3D layout.

The Globe was created by Owen Cornec and Romain Vuillemot, data visualization fellows at CID. The Globe animates 153,000 particles at once, thanks to industry advancements in graphic cards and 3D web technology. It relies on custom visualization tools built at CID, many of which have never been seen in this format. It does not require any plugin or software to run it.

“Dot-based representation is a powerful way to communicate the scale of large quantities because it breaks it down into smaller pieces,” said Vuillemot. “Dots also enable continuous representation of data between various displays which creates a user experience without any interruption. The unique dot design resembles a flow of rain or snowfall which is very appealing and engaging, while remaining faithful to the underlying dataset.”

Since The Globe was released in late August, more than 100,000 users in 166 countries have explored the tool. The Globe is currently featured in the UN’s Comtrade Labs and Google’s Chrome Experiments showroom. It will be recognized at the renowned IEEE Information Visualization conference in Chicago on Oct. 25-30, 2015. The code of The Globe is open-source and is part of CID’s effort to make all its web-based data tools freely available on GitHub with permissive licenses.

This article is published in collaboration with Harvard Kennedy School. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Chuck McKenney is a writer at the Harvard Kennedy School. 

Image: A ship is loaded with containers. REUTERS/David Gray.