Cubism.js: a cool new way to display timeline data


Developers wanting to embed more interactive, illustrative and just-plain cooler timeline data on their web sites should take a look at Cubism.js, a new open-source Javascript library for time series visualization.

Think Yahoo Finance charts on steroids — with near-real time updates — and which can aggregate and display data from multiple sources and display them together.Users can mouse over the timeline to inspect underlying values.

Cubism.js is a D3 plug-in from Square, Inc., which already supports GraphiteCube and other sources. (D3.js is a free JavaScript library for manipulating data-based documents.) Cubism is available under the Apache License on GitHub.

It also handles large amounts of data without choking, according to the writeup on Github.

Cubism fetches time series data incrementally: after the initial display, Cubism reduces server load by polling only the most recent values. Cubism renders incrementally, too, using Canvas to shift charts one pixel to the left. This approach lets Cubism scale easily to hundreds of metrics updating every ten seconds! Despite asynchronous fetching, rendering is synchronized so that charts update simultaneously, further improving performance and readability.

It’s gotten some good early reviews on Hacker News. Commenter Mnutt wrote: “My startup uses it in production. We probably send a couple million events a day and have a big dashboard with around 40 graphs on it. We also have other dashboards split out for viewing specific things. It works pretty well once we got MongoDB tuned properly.”

Not everyone is convinced of the need for more, and more complex, time-series depictions however.

Another Hacker News commenter appreciates that analytics visualizations “are great when they’re pretty, but if they aren’t comprehensible, you’ve failed…In the vast (>1) user testing I’ve done with horizon graphics, it just isn’t grokkable. People in general don’t want to look stupid, so they aren’t going to volunteer a ‘hey, what the heck am I looking there?’ they’ll just assume they aren’t smart enough to get it and be quiet.”

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