Phillip Smith

@Processingjs: open-source #datavis coming to a newsroom near you

Processing is an open source programming language and environment for people who want to create images, animations, and interactions.

I attended a great little meet-up last night. It was the second gathering of Processing-js Toronto – a group that brings together several of the people working on Processing.js (many of whom are based in Toronto at Seneca College’s Centre for Development of Open Technology), and those wanting to learn more about the Web-friendly port of the powerful Procesisng data visualization language.

The meet-up happened in the ‘Media Operations’ section of the Toronto CBC offices, which was a fun venue to get to visit. One might wonder why the CBC, but the logic is sort of obvious: tools like Processing and Processing.js are great for exploring and presenting data – both in print, and online.

The CBC’s Stephen Boyd presented a few newsroom-related projects that he’s working on with processing, like:

  • Visualizing the CBC Web site’s comment volume and ‘velocity’ on different stories;

  • Visualizing twitter posts with the #VoteTO hashtag, and then analyzing them for a candidate’s name from the most recent Toronto municipal election. (According to the data, George Smitherman should have won by a large margin.)

I’ve been keen to try some similar visualization techniques to create dashboards for contributors to, so now I’ve got some incentive (and I know who to bug when I have questions).

There were a lot of great resources that got shared last night – here’s a sampling:

  • PJSBox: PJSBox will run any Processing code you have selected in a lightbox. Magic!

  • toxiclibs.js: Toxiclibs.js is an open-source computational design library ported to javascript. Similar to Processing itself, this library has been ported from Java to work on the Web and is a great companion to Processing.js.

  • twitter-text-js: A JavaScript utility that provides text processing routines for Tweets.

  • processingjstool: A tool for the Processing IDE that exports sketches as HTML+processing.js. Obviously, quite helpful if you’re coming from Processing to Processing.js.

I was also introduced to the work of Daniel Shiffman and the Nature of Code through this port of Flocking. Beautiful stuff.

Also amazing is that Mr. Shiffman’s Kickstarter project, which promises to turn the Nature of Code into a real book, greatly overshot its goal of $5,000, raising more than $30,000. Gotta’ love the Internets.

Last but not least, was a full-length viewing of the latest HTML5 magic from Google. A must watch, if you have not seen it yet.

Great meet-up. Amazingly-creative people. My only suggestion: Fewer demos, more sketching! :)


Hi, I'm Phillip Smith, a veteran digital publishing consultant, online advocacy specialist, and strategic convener. If you enjoyed reading this, find me on Twitter and I'll keep you updated.


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