Web-log Continuum Sparklines

by October 7, 2004

There are a number of ways to organize Web-log posts (entries):

  • Date: time, month, day, year
  • Popularity: number of comments, links, views
  • Category: topic, theme
  • Author: who wrote it, who commented on it, who linked to it
  • Narrative sequence: evolution of an idea or story

Of these, the last option is probably the least common, yet potentially the most compelling for readers.

To address this, I introduced Web-log continuums last month that added a contextually relevant path for readers interested in how a particular idea has continued to evolve. But these links only tell half the story: they look forward and see if any posts dated after the current post reference it. To get the full story, I have taken a page from Edward Tufte’s sparklines playbook.

Tufte defines sparklines as “intense, design simple, word sized graphics that can gracefully and intensely narrate on-going results in detail.” Though best suited for print (due to their intense resolutions), sparklines can also introduce a lot of contextual (and perhaps even actionable) information to Web blog posts.

A simple Web-log post continuum sparkline could plot the current post a reader is viewing, the previous posts it references, and the later posts that reference it. This paints a picture of where the current post originated (what ideas it draws from), and where it went (how those ideas evolved).

The sparkline could also provide a macro-level overview of when the post occurred (in the life of the blog) how many posts are related to it and when those were added. So you could potentially see a flurry of writing on a particular topic, a lull in the evolution of the topic, and then a return to the topic at a later date (though perhaps less active).

More detail could be introduced into the sparkline by varying the height of the post “bars” to indicate post length. This could give readers a sense of when a topic was discussed in depth and when it was simply amended. An added color in the sparkline could highlight differences in post categories allowing readers to quickly see when an idea may have been mentioned in a different context. Lastly, the post bars themselves could be actionable giving readers a means to navigate between posts. Due to the small size of sparklines, however, a means of increasing the target area (such as changing CSS styles) would probably be necessary.