Sparkline Information Graphics
February 27, 2009 8:25 PM   Subscribe

Speaking of Edward Tufte (see below), sparklines are a type of information graphics characterized by their small size and data density named by Tufte. Sparklines were used by sites reporting the 2008 election and were first introduced on MeFi in 2005. There are now several ways to put sparklines on your own web site including: a simple jQuery plugin, a downloadable PHP library, a dynamic generator using a Python CGI program, and even a library for Ruby on Rails.
posted by netbros (8 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
I have to say, I have been searching for an opportunity to use Sparklines - I think they are really cool. But every time i use them in anything from academic papers to industry reports, I end up taking them out, because nobody understands them.
posted by blahblahblah at 8:41 PM on February 27, 2009

Thanks for the links! Doing a data-visualization project this week for a client; _extremely_ helpful ideas here. Just the right push I needed. :-)
posted by the cydonian at 9:10 PM on February 27, 2009

My favorite implementation is via Perl's SVG module. Your favorite implementation of sparklines sucks, etc.

Tufte writes somewhere that the best data visualization solutions tend to be very tightly bound to context - there is no universal visualization widget that looks good anywhere. This is true of sparklines too. It seems like you should be able to use them anywhere. I mean, they're just a miniature line graph, right? In practice, there's a lot of contexts in which sparklines are just completely unwarranted.
posted by Ritchie at 9:27 PM on February 27, 2009

I found sparklines useful in setting up a page which was supposed to show about 50 indicators at a glance. But I had to do some convincing.
posted by shothotbot at 9:28 PM on February 27, 2009

I dunno; sparklines are one of those things that seem cool but aren't really. His initial conception was that they were roughly the size and shape of words, and would be typeset like words in the middle of text. That's a terrible, awful idea. Because, well, they're not words. I do like the idea of miniature graphs, though, particularly ones that help characterize statistical distributions. But I've yet to actually see sparklines used in the wild in a useful way.
posted by Nelson at 7:18 AM on February 28, 2009

I probably wouldn't use them inline with text, but I can definitely see myself inserting them as marginalia.
posted by Ritchie at 7:36 AM on February 28, 2009

"Yes, oh YES!!!", she moaned as he thrust his sparkline deeply into her red, swollen marginalia.
posted by Hovercraft Eel at 7:51 AM on February 28, 2009 [7 favorites]

I definitely admire Tufte's work, and I want to like sparklines, but they're too fiddly and little for me. Maybe I need reading glasses, or maybe I just don't care about details anymore.

This guy has a blog entry showing how to do sparklines with the Google Chart API.
posted by surlycat at 9:54 AM on February 28, 2009

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