Introducing Visualizations 2.0

Published September 2 2014 by Patrick Rafferty
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Ranzal is proud to announce general availability of our Advanced Visualization Framework (AVF) 2.0 for Oracle Endeca Information Discovery (OEID) today. A few months back, we released our first cut at a "framework within the framework" for building powerful data visualizations rapidly in an enterprise-class discovery environment. It allowed both our internal team and our customers to build visualizations that deliver powerful insights in a matter of days and hours (or sometimes minutes) rather than weeks and months.  You find something cool, you plug the JavaScript into our framework, fill out some XML configuration and you're on your way.

So What's New?

This new release builds on top of our previous work and makes vast improvements both to how visualizations get built (using JavaScript) and configured (inside of OEID Studio).  The most common piece of feedback we received the first time around was that, once an advanced visualization was ready to go, configuring that visualization could be exceedingly difficult even for a seasoned user. In this release, we've made great strides in improving what we call the configuration experience.   Within this area, we've invested primarily in what we call ease of use and user guidance.

Ease of Use

We set out in this release to make every part of the configuration screens easier to understand.  For each tab in our set of preferences, we've either streamlined the set of required fields and/or given the user a set of tools and information to use as a reference.

For example, take the query writing process.  In the previous version, users needed to enter their EQL essentially "without a net".  There was no config-side validation, no visual help with simple constructs such as the field names available in a view.  It was hard, if not impossible, to get things right without some back and forth or three different browser tabs open. In the AVF 2.0, the EQL authoring process looks like this:

avf-eqlThe user no longer has to remember field names and an at-a-glance reference showing display names, attribute keys and types is front and center.  In addition, there is now on the spot validation of the query (upon hitting Save) to help diagnose any syntactical errors that may be present.

Throughout the configuration experience, we've made things easier to use.  But how does the AVG 2.0 help the user through the full process of configuring a visualization (read on).

Guided Configuration

To that end, we set out to make it easy for developers to guide their users in configuring the data elements (queries, CSS, etc.) that provide the backing for a visualization.  It was apparent very early on that, in many cases, building an advanced visualization requires some advanced capabilities.  This can be illustrated in the famous "Wealth and Health of Nations" visualization that we call the Animated Timeline:

It's a really cool visualization with a nice combination of interactivity and dynamic playback.  However, the first time we encountered it, it took us a moment to wrap our heads around questions such as "how many metrics?, how many group bys?".  It takes a fair amount of understanding to pull off generating the data for such a complex visualization*.

For a complex visualization, the developer who wrote the JavaScript has this in-depth understanding.  The trick is to provide a "no-code" capability for the developer to help the user along the configuration path.  In this release, every visualization and nearly every configurable field for a visualization can be enabled for contextual help.

This includes the visualization itself....

...its queries....


and even Custom Preferences of your own design.

Simply adding description attributes to the XML configuration for a given visualization type allows the developer to provide the power user with all the help they need.

*For the record, the Animated Timeline uses 3 metrics (X, Y, size of the bubble) and 3 group by attributes (Detail, Color and Time).

Pruning the Hedges

Frankly, the first time we released this offering, we tried to make it too configurable and too open.  Call it the software framework corollary of "Four Drafts".

To take one egregious example, the AVF 1.0 had introduced the idea of configurable tokens.  Configurable tokens are still available because they're extremely flexible and valuable.  However, we also had something called "conditional dynamic tokens".  These tokens came with their own grammar, best described as hieroglyphic, that governed their values at all times (sort of a symbolic case statement).  It's an extremely powerful construct for the developer (each token potentially saves you 5-10 lines of JavaScript) but completely confusing to the power user trying to configure a chart.  Things like that are gone.  The developer is left to do a little more work but the 99% of our users who are not making use of this functionality find the experience a lot easier to navigate.  Less is more.

What's Next

We're also making a concerted effort to bring more developers into the fold.  To that end, while we don't make our framework available for download without some agreements in place, our Installation Guide and AVF Developer's Guide can be found on our Downloads page and are available to registered users.  To register at Bird's Eye View, simply click here or use the registration link on the right. The most exciting part of the whole documentation set (talk about an oxymoron) is a new section of the Developer's Guide called the Cookbook.  It's a set of small, simple examples that allow developers to quickly come up to speed on the framework and start writing visualizations that much faster (15 minutes). If you're interested in learning more, don't hesitate to comment below or drop us a line at product [at]

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