Monday, May 25, 2009


Today I put my test Firefox extension on hold and instead decided to dive in to the problem of creating the graph - and it is indeed a problem. From what I've found so far embedding thumbnails is going to be the most challenging aspect which I may have to simply not do. Even so, creating the graph myself is going to be difficult. 

Option 1: JViz library

This is a Javascript library to create graphs through DOM objects. It seems easy to use in the sense that coordinates of nodes do no have to be specified. However, this option is not very visually pleasing. In this tutorial I've found that the images for the nodes have to be supplied through a URL - I would either need a generic node image packaged with the extension and hope JSViz accepts relative URLs or find a way to save thumbnails of webpage. The later option does not seem possible, as Javascript does not have access to the local harddisk.

Option  2: Flare  

I really like the visualization options of Flare, it seems like it would be perfect to make up for the loss of thumbnails. The downside to using Flare is that I have to learn ActionScript and Flash, two things I've never used before. Also, so only data that can be passed from a Javascript to an ActionScript (to pass the logged URLs and associated data to the visualization) is a string. Now I could find a way to express the array of URL objects in a specially formatted string and parse it within the Flash file to generate the data, or I can learn something like SQlite and maintain a database of the information. Both options don't seem to pleasing to me, but I will most likely have to go the database route. 

I would really love to use Flare - if I end up doing this browsing history visualizer - but the sheer amount of learning I would have to do would slow the programming down a lot. What I have to learn completely is: Javascript, XUL, Mozilla API, Flash, ActionScript, Flare API, and SQlite. That is a lot of topics to learn for one relatively straight forward - in principle - Firefox extension. What's really holding me back is the actual graph part - dynamically creating a graph of data is considerably hard; dynamically creating a graph of data stored in a Javascript object which cannot be exported to, say, a temporary file is frustratingly harder.

If I use Flare I think my first step would be to decide whether I want to pass the data from the Javascript through a specially formatted string or just bite the bullet and learn how to use SQlite

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