Silk Instantly Creates Data Visualizations With Web Tool and API

Data visualization service Silk allows users to create visualizations from their data sources and offers an API to help developers instantly create Web pages with embedded visualizations. ProgrammableWeb spoke with founder Salar al Khafaji about the tool, while Bowei Gai explains how he uses the Silk API to auto-create data visualization content for the World Startup Wiki.

“Silk is a platform to publish data on the Web,” explains al Khafaji. “If you have any form of structured information — government data, product information, anything that is typically structured and you want to publish it in an engaging way — we can help you create visualizations that make the data come to life.”

Al Khafaji explains that the raw data sourced by Silk is always used to create the visualizations as needed, meaning the data can be presented in a much more dynamic form than, say, infographics that present a static view of the data source from one point in time.

Auto-Creation of Data Visualizations

As a quick example, al Khafaji shows how Silk has imported data from Wikipedia and other sources to create data sets like a list of all heads of state. In seconds, al Khafaji shows how to search such a database for the religious denomination of each. Then, with a simple click, he can visualize that data into a pie chart.



Wikipedia data is combined and mashed up in Silk to create a visualization showing the religious affiliation of each country’s head of sate. First data is drilled down and then, by choosing pie chart, a visualization is instantly created.

As this is done, the filtered search queries and visualizations each get a unique URL, meaning they can be shared with anyone else and embedded into Web and application content.

In another example, Silk has remixed all of the data from GovLab’s Open Data 500 research study to create a Web resource that combines a Wikipedia-style entry with data visualizations showing how private companies are making use of open data in their products, services and business operations.


Silk automatically creates visualizations, including a world map and a bar chart based on Open Data 500 data sets published by GovLab.

This week, Silk has created a new CSV importer feature so that data owners can more easily add uploads of their own data sources to the platform in order to create Web pages and visualizations.

Users start by creating a public or private Web page (private Web pages will eventually be created with a subscription, whereas free users will automatically default to public sharing of their data, but for now, usage is free to allow anyone to test out the tools). Users then upload their data in spreadsheet format or as a CSV. Silk does the rest as far as cataloging that data, creating a table of contents pages and creating a template so that users can write an introduction, choose what data visualization types to use and combine the data with some narrative.

Case Study Using the Silk API: The World Startup Wiki

“There are a few ways the API is being used,” says al Khafaji. “Our API is completely read/write. It lets you do these individual pages and use our query facility. Our product is basically JavaScript for our API. The majority use our API to write data to Silk using mass imports and to create custom UIs, and then they use Silk as their Web interface." Al Khafaji points to World Startup as one example using its API.

Gai, founder of the World Startup Report, has been using Silk to programmatically create country reports from the community-based research carried out as part of the global project.

He describes how he uses the Silk API to create the pages seen at the World Startup Wiki:

First, I put all my data into spreadsheets. Then I copied the spreadsheets to other communities so they could fill it in. Once we had this data, it was very easy to import the data using the Web tool from Silk.

But it is after you import that into Silk, that’s where the fun begins. After you get your Silk credentials, you get a Silk site ID, then using your OAuth, you can import your Silk pages into your website.

So it is easy to programmatically import a lot of pages.

I am a very bad programmer so if i can do it, it's not very hard!

Gai points to the example country page for Malaysia on World Startup Wiki. The page has been created totally from data from his Silk account, pulled into his website via the Silk API.

Gai is impressed with how Silk responded to his particular API needs: “They are a very good company to work with. There were some specific things we needed to make the API work for us, and they really turned it around quickly, so that’s why we love working with them.”

Developers can create a free account and start using Silk to create visualizations immediately. 

Mark Boyd is a ProgrammableWeb writer covering breaking news, API business strategies and models, open data, and smart cities.