Dynamic, Lightweight Visualization

Edward Tufte's print world is filled with stunningly beautiful visualizations. Even seemingly mundane things like visualizations of Ruby, Java, and JavaScript grammars can be beautiful. But they're static. They don't move. They're not interactive.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at: http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2007/01/dynamic-lightweight-visualization.html

The dojo.gfx library brings a unified API to canvas on browsers which support it and uses VML on IE to emulate. The output is impressive and a good candidate for the visualisations you are after.

dojo.gfx is very cool. More info:


Demo 1:

Demo 2:

This is pretty sexy. I’m current starting a project using http://prefuse.org/ , and it’s exciting to turn numbers and relationships into something more immediately meaningful. I think a problem doing this in web pages (besides a lack of slick, easy tech) is that it takes effort not just to code such a visualization, but to come up with one in the first place. A new way of thinking about data is just as important to a novel visualization as actually implementing it.


or even in any Microsoft OS newer than Windows XP
Service Pack 2

Dude, Vista isn’t even out yet for retail sale!

I guess we’ll be swamped with these sorts of remarks from here on out though. I’m not tarring you as an intentional shill for Microsoft and the hardware sales industry, but it’ll be interesting to see how many ways bloggers further the cause of the Supply Siders pushing conspicuous consumption. [“Dang! You’re still on XP?” She said disdainfully looking down her nose, assessing his withering manhood.]

Just a wacky observation.

Have you guys seen Indexed yet?

It’s someone drawing simple charts on index cards showing relationships between ideas.

Some of them have been pretty good.


If you have the time to complain about Flash ads, you could just install Adblock.

It also seems that Wolfenstein 5K was done in 2003, not 2002. “Just so you know, this was written in 2003 for the 5K contest, but I haven’t updated it since, which should be painfully obvious from the browser list below.”

Some cool flash visualizations are at:


A bunch of them are “open source” (you can download the fla and …)


Flash a la Processing ?= Brevity : http://blog-blprnt-com.bryght.net/blog/blprnt/brevity

In my experience, java applets are nasty. I’ve tried three ways of displaying a graph (the node-and-edge sort), one of which was implementing spring-graph in processing, but it and the other solutions were very badly behaved, from having a 50-50 chance of freezing the browser (TouchGraph) to the second run not working or being the cause of a half-dead firefox process that means that lovely error that you can’t start firefox because it’s there yet not there.

I don’t want to explain this to my users, and I can’t yet figure out why not one, but all the applets I’ve tried have these problems, and why they’re not particularly deterministically. I’m looking towards Flash; as much as I used to hate that CPU hog and use FlashBlock against the ads, people have it and it works more consistently and is easier to install, even in linux.

Dojo: Yeah, it rocks. But remember your post a few days ago about undocumented APIs?


I held out some hope that the Open Lazlo project would bring some Flash based data visualzation to the web. But at OSCON when I asked them about charting the booth dude just gave me a blank look and said he didn’t know anything about it. “I think it’s in there, you’d have to look through the web site.” His badge said “Engineer”.

Holy crap! The Marlins can field a Major League team for $14 Million?

I think the Mariners might manage to put 2 players on the field for that.

Anything that’s going to be commercially useful has to work with whatever the IT department has mandated for the corporate desktop. These days that’s usually IE6 (with no SVG or Flash) running on XP. Javascript and/or bitmapped images are usually the only option.

If you want to see some interesting use of flash combining visualization with ecommerce check out www.etsy.com

Flash visualization is actually quite easy to do as well, I was amazed looking through the archives of http://levitated.net – the some visualizations are made for Processing, the later ones for Flash MX, have a look.

Hans Rosling has done work on presenting statistics with Flash, although I don’t believe any of the code is open source. See:

For more information. The video at the first link is well worth watching.

TED is always worth watching :wink:

It’s frustrating that the IE team ripped out the capability that made Wolfenstein 5K work (XBM image support), but didn’t replace it with any more modern equivalents (like SVG, canvas or data:url support).

dojo.gfx looks great, though! I’d looked at for an abstraction layer that used SVG or VML (depending on browser support) a while ago and didn’t find anything. This is it!