Making the Switch to HTML5: Social Media Lab Aims to Create Mobile-Proof Visualizations in 2012

Welcome to 2012! Another year has passed, and a new one has just begun. It is the perfect time of year to chart a new direction and try something new. In 2012, the Social Media Lab will start developing new visualizations in HTML5 and converting old ones to HTML5. Our aim is to future proof our work, with a particular focus on mobile device compatibility.

As a research lab that specializes in visualizing social media and other types of information, most of the visualizations embedded in our projects have been developed using Adobe Flash Builder. There is little doubt that Adobe Flash is a great development platform for creating interactive visualizations. However, the future belongs to mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets and, unfortunately, Adobe Flash does not play well with them. For example, none of the Apple mobile devices natively support Flash.

The benefits of  HTML5 have been well discussed by others here and here.  For us the <canvas> capabilities of HTML5 is especially impressive and useful. It allows developers to draw and manipulate graphic elements directly in the browser and more easily incorporate multimedia files into a visualization. Below is our first ‘test drive’ of HTML5, created using a popular Processing java script library. It is a basic tag cloud-type visualization that shows the most popular hashtags of 2011 as tweeted by scholars who are members of the American Society for Information Science & Technology (ASIS&T). Most of the Twitter trends that this visualizations captured show that conferences such as those sponsored by the American Library Association and JISC in the UK are prominent in the professional lives of ASIS&T members. This visualization is based on ~50,000 tweets collected during 2011. Enjoy!

Let us know what you think about HTML5 and if your device supports it.