New file format allows journalists to create interactive infographics

Software company Wolfram Research has launched a new file format with possibilities for journalists creating interactive infographics.

The Computable Document Format (CDF) allow users to play with various controls and parameters and explore data and diagrams, bringing text books, reports and online journalism to life.

Announcing the launch on the blog, director of strategic and international development Conrad Wolfram describes the CDF format and explains how the technology enables users to move away from static documents.

With CDFs we’re broadening this communication pipe with computation-powered interactivity, expanding the document medium’s richness a good deal. (Actually we’re also improving what I call the ‘density of information’, too: the ability to pack understandable information into a small space — particularly important on small screen devices like smartphones.)

So how easy is it to create a CDF?

Wolfram states it is easy enough, that more than 7,000 non-programmers have contributed info apps to the Demonstrations site and promises the process of building info apps will get easier.

We’re at the level now where the sorts of authors who’d be able to learn how to make a Microsoft Excel macro could learn how to make a CDF. Instead I’d like anyone who can make an Excel chart be able to make a CDF (ie almost anyone).

One major downside is that the viewer needs to install a browser plugin in order to view the infographic or diagram. It is a large file (500MB) and therefore takes a while to download.

So why not use Flash? Wolfram states it is “too hard, too time-consuming even for pre-generated frames. ‘Citizen authors’ [who have contributed to the Demonstrations site] simply wouldn’t bother”.

You can explore examples here (you will need to download the CDF player).


2 thoughts on “New file format allows journalists to create interactive infographics

  1. James Goffin

    A 500mb plugin? Flash player is under 3mb. The full Flash application used to create files is under 200mb.
    This simply isn’t viable as a solution.

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