Wikipedia Backbars is a GreaseMonkey script to add histogram backgrounds to Wikipedia tables. It’s a great way to make tables more graphic, to visualize the patterns in the excellent, but usually very dry tables in Wikipedia.
It’s early days yet but it’s already usable enough to give it a spin.
Once you have it, browse to any Wikipedia page with tables and among Wikipedia’s tabs at the top, you’ll see the “backbars” tab. Click it and all tables on that page will get backbars. It may take a while if there’s a lot of data, performance is not there yet.
A great place to get interesting articles with tables is Wikipedia’s list of countries with rankings. Here’s a quick gallery of some of the possibilities, linked to the corresponding Wikipedia article:
This is an idea I’ve been mulling over for years now, back from my own blog’s archive list. I get dizzy with its possibilities: this could, should, go into every table, every list, anywhere in your computer, giving you ever present, subconscious, ambient hints (imagine your GMail inbox with backbars showing each messages’ length). This is the beginning.
Other non-obvious features, illustrated in this mock table are:
- The total, if included, is autodetected numerically and presented and calculated separately (slightly darker) so that it doesn’t distort the whole column. “World” rows, the total in lists of countries, are also autodetected explicitly.
- Years are graphed differently in an interesting way. Instead of being a histogram of absolute quantity, it becomes a histogram of differences. The result is that just by glancing you can tell whether the years (of your source, say) are among the oldest or the newest in the column.
- Negative values are recognized and presented in a slightly red hue and positioned right to left.
- 000×000 cells are recognized and their multiplication value is considered.
- Histograms on sequential columns, like the ranking column, are not a bug but a feature, useful for knowing how far along in a long table you are.
- Most clutter (currency signs, commas, footnotes, notes) won’t choke the number recognition, the opposite, over-recognizing, is more likely to be the case.
Enjoy it, I hope it’s useful, and please let me know what you think of it — ideas, suggestions, bugs.