Using Javascript for Visualization?

People have been predicting the rise of Javascript visualization implementations for a while now, but is this really going to happen?

First, let’s look at the positive signs:

However, looking about the web, how many examples of visualizations are there? Well, I’ve found some interesting ones like Matt Ryall’s visualizations of wiki data and Social Collider. There are more in the InfoVis research community.

But there aren’t many. So what is preventing it becoming more widespread?

One factor is the stubborness of Microsoft in its reluctance to support standards like Canvas. For commercial purposes IE is impossible to ignore.

Another factor is the language itself:

Javascript books: a cheap dig!

Javascript books: a cheap dig!

For me one of the biggest barriers is the development environment.  I’ve tried a few, the best I’ve found being JSEclipse (now part of Flex).  I must be missing something ;-)

So how is this going to develop?  My guess is that we are still a couple of years away from more mainstream adoption.  But there is no doubt that it is coming.

Update: I chatted with Mike Bostock and Marian Dörk at VisWeek about their Javascript environments. Safari and TextMate seemed to be their preferred environments for writing code…

2 Responses to “Using Javascript for Visualization?”


  • With such a fractured runtime environment what would make you choose Javascript for a production-quality product over technologies that have their own runtime and supposedly provide the same experience on all runtimes (Flash, Silverlight, Java applets)? I could see it working for an visualisation island, but for a complete application?

    I do wonder a bit why the aim seems to be to turn browsers in to a pseudo operating system, they used to be there just to fetch and draw HTML. More complexity equals more bugs and more security risks?

    • I guess I don’t see the runtime environment as the key thing – because differences are often abstracted away by good libraries – but instead the bit I don’t quite get is the javascript development infrastructure needed to do a good job. Put another way: what tools are out there already that I haven’t found yet?

      To your second point – the way I see it is that the browser isn’t the operating system, but it is more and more the preferred presentation layer for applications. And people prefer a plug-in free / open standards based deployment. Whether this presentation layer is up to the task in hand (in terms of performance, functionality, etc.) is the main question.

      I do agree that with Flash, etc., as competitor technologies, javascript has a good deal of catching up to do…

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