Plotly Bets Big on Open Sourcing Their Platform

November 18, 2015

2:00 pm

It seems everywhere I look these days there's something new about data science, but that's a good thing. After all, with the majority of the world's data being created only in the last few years, it logically follows that there's going to be a surge in career fields where people learn how to read, interpret, and understand this data. That's where data scientists come in, and the field is beyond hot right now.

Plotly is a platform that's been helping to move the data science field forward, and they were able to secure $5.5 million in Series A funding a few months back to help accelerate this mission. Well, the Plotly team officially announced this week that they're going open source the platform to help extend their data visualization benefits to as many teams, developers, and data scientists as they can.

“Open source has become the de facto distribution for gold standard, scientific, and business intelligence software,” says Jack Parmer, cofounder and CEO of Plotly. “At Plotly, we want to support, participate in, and amplify this trend. By open sourcing Plotly's core technology, everyone benefits from peer review, and Plotly's products will continue to be the most cutting-edge offering for exploratory visualization.”

There are a growing number of graphing tools and libraries that let us all make beautiful, interactive, web based graphs. Plotly simply visualizes their data online so we can learn more, allow others to explore the data sets, and paint a complete picture of what’s going on.

That's been the main focus for Plotly so far: combining familiar social features like sharing, comments, and feeds with powerful tools for statistics, visualizations, and data exploration. However, their new, open source platform – Plotly.js – has been developed over the last three years and operates as the core technology and JavaScript graphing library behind Plotly's online platform. So, it's always been present in the background but is finally being opened up to the world.

You see, while the web offers a lot of possibilities, the core plotting libraries in scientific software like MATLAB, R, and Python still create static image files rather than dynamic, interactive charts. A lot of technical and scientific projects don’t embrace web technology because of JavaScript libraries being commercially developed, expensive, narrow in scope, or difficult to learn and use. Currently, Plotly.js supports 36 chart types, including 3D plots, geographic maps, and statistical charts like density plots, histograms, box plots, and contour plots: check out the GitHub repository.

“Plotly.js has the quality, accessibility, and scope to be the charting standard for the Web, but we can only achieve this breadth by working across communities and making the distribution truly unencumbered, portable, and free,” says Parmer.

Here are seven details that make the project unique in its nature:

  1. Scientific grade: Plotly.js is comparable in scope and features to MATLAB or Python’s matplotlib, but written in JavaScript, the language of the Web.
  2. VG & WebGL backends: Plotly.js uses both D3.js (SVG) and WebGL for graphics rendering. WebGL allows interactive rendering of hundreds of thousands to millions of x-y points, while D3.js is more practical for up to tens of thousands of points and vector-quality image export.
  3. Testing framework: For code contributors, the plotly.js image testing framework makes it the most stable JavaScript charting library available.
  4. User documentation: The plotly.js documentation is hosted on GitHub pages and is open-source under a Creative Commons license.
  5. No dependencies: Plotly.js is an “all-in-one bundle” with d3.js and modules baked-in.
  6. No jQuery: jQuery has been removed from plotly.js for significantly better performance and improved browser compatibility.
  7. Powered by a JSON schema: Plotly.js is based on a new open-source JSON schema for creating, saving, and sharing scientific charts.

This latest, full version of Plotly.js is available to developers for free, unlimited use in any project. And while the 2016 road map is constantly changing for the company, they tell us that next year is likely to have a heavy emphasis on performance.

Image Credit: Flickr / Images Money's page / cropped, resized

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Will is a Senior Writer with Tech.Co, based out of America's Finest City: San Diego. He covers all territory West of the Mississippi river, digging deep for awesome local entrepreneurs, companies, and ideas. He's the resident Android junkie and will be happy to tell you why you should switch to the OS. When he's off the clock, Will focuses his literary talent on the art of creative writing...or you might find him surfing in Ocean Beach. Follow Will on Twitter @WJS1988