SVG a graphics format for 21st century

XML-based definition promotes re-use and interactivity


SVG is hot.

That is, I like SVG: it's a graphical format that goes a long way toward achieving visual effects that I want my applications to have, and I believe it's ready to "infect" the general population of Web developers any week now.

Duelling visualizations

"Visual effects" for me generally are "data-based"; I do a lot more with reports and analyses than games or art. Restriction to this dry domain still finds plenty of eye-catching work. The New York Times recently featured
unemployment charts that interact (in a limited if stylish way) with the reader. This, like many other outstanding visualizations on the Web, is delivered as a Flash movie.

Even static images, like this related one from FlowingData, are rarely seen as SVG; the author worked in SVG for reasons he explains, then, without explanation, published as PNG.

It's easy to guess his reason: Internet Explorer (IE) doesn't support SVG.

I'm in the happy position where most of the end-users of my Web applications are professionals and technical workers, and I can reasonably require that they use a modern version of Firefox, Safari, Opera, or one of the many other browsers that support SVG. Why is that such a good thing? Advantages of SVG have been well-known for many years: it's an open standard, instances are XML, images are scalable, instances often can be compressed smaller than corresponding JPEG, and so on. FlowingData rightly emphasizes its scriptability: in contrast to raster-based formats like GIF, JPEG, and PNG, it's a simple matter to issue commands like, "lighten the red in the upper left", or "highlight the second floor in yellow". That simplifies the visualizations FlowingData produces; rather than having to trace out the pixels that represent, say, "Michigan", or "the delivery zone", these concepts can simply be passed around programmatically by corresponding IDs. You can see the appeal to developers.

Moreover, "data as service" is starting to take off, putting a premium on flexible tools that encourage us to script together several distinct data- and visualization-feeds.

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