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The new Silk is here

What's new in the latest major upgrade of this data-publishing platform

May 25, 2015

When we spoke with Salar al Khafaji, Silk‘s CEO and co-founder, back in November, he mentioned that the general direction of this flexible data-publishing platform is to make it easier for people to publish data online and find, interact and use the published Silks.

Last week, with the most recent set of new features and upgrades, the company took another major step into achieving that goal, and becoming one of the most reliable go-to products to publish data-driven stories on the Internet.

Overall, the new features and improvements announced are:

100% Responsive and mobile-friendly: All Silk pages and datacards are now responsive and work well on mobile devices or tablets. The layout, visualizations, and images will adapt according to your screen size. Silk menus and navigation features have also been optimized to work for mobile users on smaller screens.

Smarter visualizations: After importing data, Silk will automatically suggest a visualization. We’ve also added a large green ‘Publish’ button to help you easily insert the visualization onto your homepage, or into another page.

Introducing datacards and big colorful navigation tabs: One of the driving goals of this redesign was to make Silks clearer to navigate and easier to use, both for visitors and creators.

“We introduced a clear distinction between pages that contain structured data (which we call datacards), and pages that present and visualize the data in your Silk. This separation makes Silk easier to navigate and understand both for creators and users.”

Easier Silk creation and data imports: Silk creators now get step-by-step help during data imports, during manual data entry, and during the creation of their first visualizations. You can jump into and out of the tutorial flow as you like.

We had the chance to ask a couple of questions to Salar about this upgrade:

Visualoop (VL) -Salar, the mobile experience was a major focus of this new release. What were the challenges the team faced making these implementations, specially when it comes to the way the viewer interacts with the visualizations?

Get visualizations work on mobile is a huge challenge: there are so many variables that you have to deal with, with the obvious tradeoffs around screen sizes.

We ended up creating a flexible layout engine that can decide dynamically on which elements to show depending on available screen real estate: e.g., hiding or minimizing legends or showing some labels only when the user hovers over the elements.

This framework also allows us to quickly launch new visualizations. For instance, we recently introduced horizontal bar charts because they work so much better than traditional vertical bar charts on mobile phones.

VL – After importing data, Silk now automatically suggest a visualization. Tell us how did this interesting feature came to existence: was it user-demanded, or something you guys came up with internally?

It’s a bit of both: we realized that the first impressions of using Silk are very important, and part of that is showing people their own data in the best way possible. A big part of the new release is the improved user onboarding, and we didn’t want to stop with just a step-by-step guide.

Being able to go from a spreadsheet with some image URLs into a beautiful image grid in a few minutes tends to feel like magic for most people and leaves them with a great first impression of Silk.

VL – And you mentioned last year that you were also trying to make it easier for people to find existing Silks that they might find interesting and then follow those Silks and the people behind them. Any news on this front?

Yes, as we’re growing with more and more Silks every day this is becoming one of our key efforts for this year. We’ve already launched our gallery, which is part of the homepage, and the Silk of the Day newsletter to highlight the best public Silks that are being created.

We definitely have more stuff coming up later this year around interacting with existing Silks – stay tuned for that part.

If you’re not familiar with Silk, just head out to silk.co/help, where you’ll find tutorials on creating a basic Silk, importing spreadsheets, and other helpful articles to make it easier for you learn how to use the new Silk.

Also, the video below gives a good idea of what this platform can offer you:

Written by Tiago Veloso

Tiago Veloso is the founder and editor of Visualoop and Visualoop Brasil . He is Portuguese, currently based in Bonito, Brazil.

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