Sparklines are a really interesting way of presenting information on a webpage.

According to Wikipedia:

Sparklines are a format developed by Edward Tufte for small graphic charts which can be inserted within text on a page.

Tufte describes sparklines as "data-intense, design-simple, word-sized graphics". Whereas the typical chart is designed to show as much data as possible, and is set off from the flow of text, sparklines are intended to be succinct, memorable, and located precisely where appropriate.

You can see an example of their usage on the Information Aesthetics blog. You can use the PHP Sparkline graphing library which can make it easy to generate some Sparklines.

I think Sparklines are a great way of showing information in cases where a graph would present the information well but the information isn’t really important enough to warrant a large graph. Another advantage of sparklines is that they can appear inline in a passage of text.


I decided to experiment with introducing Sparklines a bit by trying to introduce them into a forum. It’s possible that sparklines can show all kinds of stuff such as when posts are made, how active a user is on the forum, etc. I’ve currently implemented them as an indicator of activity in a forum discussion.

Geneone Forum Sparklines

This screenshot is actually photoshopped as I don’t have a large enough forum on Localhost to produce any decent graphs. I’ve pasted a graph using some sample data on top of the blank graphs which I actually get on Localhost. A lot of forums these days will show information such as the number of views but I’ve never particularly found it useful. Several users have been asking for it and it’d be interesting to see whether using Sparklines will make the data any more useful.

Possible uses of Sparklines in a forum:

  • To show a user’s activity
  • To show the "karma" or the number of upvotes/downvotes on a comment
  • To show the activity of a discussion or forum
  • To show the number of people online over the last 24 or 48 hours 

2 thoughts on “Sparklines

  1. I don’t mean to blow my own trumpet or anything here but… I’ve been doing this for years:


    I just thought it was nice and tidy to have a line graph without labelled axes, to simply illustrate the movement of score up or down. I didn’t think to give my invention a fancy name. 😛

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