Let’s say you want to add a chart to a blog post. How do you generate the chart? I’d guess that the majority of bloggers would use some client software like Excel that can create charts to enter the data, save the chart as an image, and upload it.
But what if you want the chart to represent volatile data, like the results of an ongoing survey that are stored in a database?
Well, the good folks at Google have released the Google Chart API. It’s a really simple API for generating various kinds of chart images from data and options provided in a URL. A single HTTP GET request with parameters is all you need. You can even use the URL as the src attribute on an img tag, as shown below:
The URL for this image is http://chart.apis.google.com/chart?cht=p3&chs=300×250&chd=s:Google, where “p3″ is the type of chart (3-D Pie), “300×250″ is the chart size, and “s:Google” is the data.
The data, you say?
And that’s where “simple” starts to break down. Each letter in the word “Google” in this example stands for a data point with a value between 0 and 61, where “A” thru “Z” represent 0-25, “a” thru “z” map to 26-51, “0″ thru “9″ cover 52-61, and missing values are represented by an underscore. Commas are used to separate series. The leading “s:” says that the encoding is “simple”.
That’s not the only method for encoding data that Google provides, but the two other methods also require that you scale your data to a fixed range of values, so you might as well use the “simple” one.
Other than that minor headache, though, the API is pretty neat. You can control colors and transparency, titles, legends, axis labels, line styles, and more. For chart types, you can choose between Line, Bar, Pie, Venn, and Scatter diagrams — with specific options for each.