A chart that justifies all the RIA hype (again)

imageThere are web enthusiasts that consider Flash, Silverlight and friends nothing but an accessibility problem. I think there is plenty of potential in RIA technologies that we still haven’t experienced. Data visualization is definitely one of the top fields, and NY Times just posted a Flash chart that reminds me why.

Check out the interactive chart that shows how Americans use their day. At a first look, it’s nothing but a stacked area chart with time of day as the category axis and population percentage as the value axis.

imageThat itself isn’t such an impressive thing: You can render these things with Excel as well, and static images might work as a representation format on the web page. However, how many of those two kid family parents actually are eating at 7:00 am? Just hover over.

The tooltips are great. They show very meaningful additional details and work well (unlike tool tips in HTML image maps). Also, they highlight the segment of data the tooltip is describing, making it vastly easier to make sure you’re actually getting the data you want.

imageAnd one more thing. The segmenting tool allows you to pick a filter to apply for the data. Nothing particularly great there, but once you click a filter, the areas in the chart smoothly animate to show the new data set. Is that just eye candy?

In my opinion, no. The transition from one data set to another could be instantaneous, or it could cause another page load. One might think the animation will only slow you down, but I see another perspective: The animation helps you see the difference. You can’t take it all in at once, but by focusing on one single aspect (such as “how do the working hours differ between the white and hispanic population?”) the animation actually helps you grasp the differences far more effectively than two separate charts would.

So yes, while I do not want to encourage mindless RIA madness, I think excellent data deserves an excellent representation. There are plenty of things left to be done on this field. Almost all the business applications still look like crap. If you’re looking for a future specialization, I’d wager this one will keep you employed.

PS. Somewhat related is my post on YouTube’s view count analysis.

August 12, 2009 · Jouni Heikniemi · 2 Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: General

2 Responses

  1. Aki Björklund - August 12, 2009

    That chart is also totally doable with open technologies (canvas or SVG & JavaScript).

    Arguably Flash and Silverlight have better tools and probably will for a long time. In any case, building interactive charts and other visualizations is both expensive and time-consuming. Excluding video for a while there is not that much of a use for proprietary plugins.

  2. Heikniemi Hardcoded » Silverlight and Bing Maps: Good or bad for the web? - December 3, 2009

    […] the HTML 5 canvas element is another valid stab at removing the need for plug-ins – things like animated charts may well be powered by the pure browser in the […]

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