Tag Archives: Flash

Website madness of marketing agencies

I have spent a lot of time recently researching Sydney-based agencies to invite to the upcoming Launch of our Vquence VQmetrics service. This involved finding their websites, finding out about their target business (do they do online video?), finding a relevant contact, and emailing an invitation to them.

I am close to institutional confinement!

I do understand that agencies need to show off their creativity on their Website. The result of this is that most agency Websites are completely written in Flash. Fortunately I have the latest version of Flash installed, so I can load them all. But my Web browser and MacBook do not deal well with having more than about 5 tabs open with Flash content – my machine almost grunts to a halt. So, there goes the idea of opening multiple tabs at the same time while waiting for the lengthy Flashs of the sites to load…

Then, once the pages are loaded, it is always a surprise to see what the agency has come up with. At the beginning of the exercise it was a surprise. Later it became a nuisance. Now, I am utterly terrified before opening another agency Website. Will it break my browser? Will it start playing a video? Will it start playing music so loud that it blasts off my ears? Will I feel really stupid because I cannot navigate the site? Will I be able to locate the “Contact Us” section? Will they have bothered to publish an email address or do I have to fill in a stupid contact form that I know nobody will look at? Will the contact email work or just bounce?

It almost feels like the creation of the Website is a competition between the agencies as to who can create the maddest, most unusual, and most unusable Website.

Please, please! Can I just have a simple, usable site with obvious navigation, a simple and fast loading list of reference work, and a list of key people working at the agency with their email contacts?

Oh, and Mumbrella has just published a post that gives me scientific proof that this is a conspiracy against me by the agencies! No, stop that – I am not ready to be locked up yet!

Choosing a Web charting library

At Vquence, until now we have used the Thumbstacks chart library for our graphs. TSChartlib is a simple open source charting library that uses the HTML canvas and an IE hack to create its graphs.

Vquence is now getting real serious with charts and graphs and we were thus looking for a more visually compelling and more flexible alternative. If you do a google search for “online charting library“, you get a massive amount of links to proprietary systems (admittedly, some of them offer the source code if you pay a premium). I will not be listing them here – go find them for yourself. However, the world of decent open source charting libraries is relatively small, so I want to share the outcome of my search.

There is the Open Flash Chart libary, which provides charting functionality for flash or flex programmers. The charts look rather nice and have overlays on the data points, which is something I missed thoroughly from TSChartlib.

There is a open source flex component called FlexLib which only does line charts, IIUC.

There is PlotKit, a Chart and Graph Plotting Library for Javascript. It has support for HTML Canvas and also SVG via Adobe SVG Viewer and native browser support and looks quite sexy.

Then there is JFreeChart, a 100% Java chart library that makes it easy for developers to display professional quality charts in their applications. Another Java charting library is JOpenChart. Incidentally, there’s a whole swag of further Java libraries that do charts and graphing. However, we are not too keen on Java for Web technologies.

Outside our area of interest, there are also open source chart libraries in C#, but C#/.NET is not a platform we intend to support, so these were out of the question.

Our choice came down to the “Open Flash Chart” library vs “Plotkit”. Of the two, the Flash library and technology seems more mature, easier to use, and creates sexier charts. Also, we can sensibly expect all Vquence users to have Flash installed, while we cannot expect the same to be true for SVG. However, I was fascinated by the flexible use of SVG and HTML Canvas and will certainly get back to it later, when I expect it to have matured a bit more.

Our choice of the Open Flash Chart was further facilitated by a rails plugin for it. Score!

Of course: I might have totally missed some obvious or better alternatives. So, leave me a reply if you think I did!