Sencha Acquires the JavaScript InfoVis Toolkit

Posted in: javascript infovis toolkit

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Sencha Inc., a company that focuses on client-side technologies acquired this Friday the JavaScript InfoVis Toolkit!

What does it mean?

Sencha now owns the toolkit. Following the Sencha Labs philosophy, the project will remain with an Open Source license (BSD), and will be part of the Sencha Labs foundation. This means that someone from Sencha will take some time to maintain and still develop the toolkit from now on. That person can be me, but I also encourage the Sencha Team to take a closer look at the project, there are many cool concepts in there that even trascend the fact that it’s done in JavaScript, and I would love to get some help on the development of the toolkit. Oh, and yes I’m looking at you too reader, the project has been up for more than two years and you still haven’t contributed? Now is the time!

What does it mean… for me?

I started this project all by myself three years ago. I still remember I was playing around with Hyperbolic Geometry when the experiment was featured for the first time in Ajaxian. My intention at first was far from building an Open Source project or gathering a small community of people interested in it, it was just about learning Data Visualization. After taking a look at Tamara Munzner’s Google Tech Talk, I was amazed by this field and tried to learn all I could about state of the art infovis.

Then I moved to France to work for Exalead. I was primarily working with the Java stack on enterprise products (not related to infovis). Then I would go home and spend more time learning infovis and putting into practice the things I learnt by hacking.

One of the things I found interesting about infovis papers is that they generally provide an overview of some visualization technique, they provide a user study to show how the visual encodings presented are better in some situations, but there is little concrete talk about the implementation itself. Of course, the papers are about Data Visualization, not Computer Graphics. We’re not supposed to be reading pseudo-code, but instead how a visualization provides new insights on data. That “lack of information” about a concrete implementation was very interesting to me at first: each visualization became a technical challenge. With the time I got to learn something very interesting though. The real challenge lies in the creativity required to invent a visualization that actually helps the user and increases his/her overall productivity when browsing some dataset.

At first the toolkit was… WYSIWYG: I was just experimenting with infovis and since I was building everything from scratch design errors showed up. There were some early adopters though, like OpenCRX that included the toolkit as part of their mobile application. With time the toolkit got much better, and people from Google, Mozilla, The Guardian, CERN, UBS, Platform Computing and more started using it.

Along with Protovis, I believe that the JavaScript InfoVis Toolkit became the most robust solution to provide Web based interactive Data Visualizations.

Thanks to the toolkit I got the chance to meet the InfoVis community in Paris by speaking at the Parisian Seminar on InfoVis and HCI, and to present the toolkit at JSConf in Berlin. I also began working on building visualizations at Exalead Labs, and the toolkit was also one of the reasons I moved from France to California to work for Sencha. Also I’ll be presenting the toolkit at the YOW! Developer Conferences in Australia this year.

Within this three years I also learnt how to create, license, develop and maintain an Open Source project and its community by hosting the project, accepting collaborations through GitHub, answering questions at the Google Group, etc. This might seem silly to some of you, but maintaining an Open Source project requires some hard work and dedication.

The project has reached a maturity I’m very proud of. And there are still much things to work on. Exploring new visualization techniques and robust WebGL support are just a few things that come to my mind.

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