Sparking Interest

My blog receives a lot more traffic when I update it . Can you tell how many times I’ve updated it in the last nine days?

GraphThese little graphs are called Sparklines. They’re easy to make and embed in a document. They can also be used (as you can see) on web pages and blogs. They’re not full-blown, data-intense graphs. Sure, I could (and would) jump into Excel, plug in some data, and whip up a graph in a couple minutes to illustrate a point. But that graph would be separate from my text, and the reader has to stop reading to look at it. When you want to quickly show a trend, or present data within a broader context, sparklines can help.

Sparklines were invented by Edward Tuft, professor emeritus of statistics, graphic design (there’s a combination!), and political economy at Yale. He describes them as “data-intense, design-simple, word-sized graphics.” They’re bite-sized chunks of data, shown graphically, in a space that’s about the size of a word.

Where do you get ’em? For the graph above, I used Joe Gregorio’s Sparkline Generator. This is a free web script. Go to his page, plug in your data, and it gives you an image tag that you can paste into your web page. I could also just copy the image from there and paste it into a document. Joe also offers the script and source code for free, so you could host it on your own server.

There’s also a commercial plugin for Microsoft Office to create sparklines and embed them into documents. Bissantz SparkMaker allows you to easily incorporate the little graphs into your Office presentations. Personally, I’d rather save the $199 and paste them in from the free web generator, but the option is available.

There’s also a php library, for the programmers among us.  I could see us doing some neat things with this to show spam stats, Internet traffic use, server health, and other geeky data.

2 thoughts on “Sparking Interest

  1. I’m not thrilled with this application. The visual part of a graph is simply one component, and a rather meaningless one at that if the x and y axis labels are omitted. I was able to surmise from your graph and your text that you updated your blog twice in the last 9 days corresponding to the two spikes, but that might not been what your graph was showing at all! Given the relative lack of mathmatical sophistication I have observed in the general public and the apparently increasing abuse and manipulation of “objective” data, I’m not sure this program is a positive step forward.

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