Open source graph visualization

9th February, 2018

A completely (un)biased review of your options

Here at Cambridge Intelligence, we work a lot with product managers. It’s their job to manage the product life-cycle, delivering quality software that keeps users happy and competitors at bay.

They come to us in their quest for new and insightful ways to see and understand the data in their applications. Graph visualization is an obvious choice – it’s an incredibly effective and intuitive way to explore complex data – but there are so many options.

Should you use an open source code library to build a solution in-house? Buy an off-the-shelf application? Or take the middle route with a commercial graph visualization software development kit (SDK) like KeyLines?

In this blog post, I’ll quickly explore two of those options – open source code libraries and commercial SDKs – against some important criteria to show why KeyLines should be the obvious choice.

Cost: “There’s a cheaper way to do this”

Unless you have the in-house expertise in graphics and rendering technology, open source isn’t the most cost-effective option in the long-term.
Unless you have the in-house expertise in graphics and rendering technology, open source isn’t the most cost-effective option in the long-term.

At first glance, open source technologies are attractive as they appear to be “free”. Although they have low up-front costs, they end up being expensive in other ways. Development resource, longer time to market, and on-going maintenance overhead, to name a few.

Unless you have the in-house expertise in graphics and rendering technology, open source isn’t the most cost-effective option in the long-term. Often the total cost of ownership (TCO) of a proprietary data visualization technology is actually lower than an open source equivalent.

We’ve met a lot of developers who’ve tried to build their own graph visualization apps with open source tools. Usually, they spend a few months unsuccessfully hacking before they discover KeyLines and make more progress in a few hours than they previously did in a month.

We’ve worked hard to ensure KeyLines has a shallower learning curve, excellent documentation and a faster developer experience. You also benefit from the experience and help of our support team, formed of core KeyLines developers with decades of combined experience in designing and building graph visualization tools. They’ve helped thousands of developers over the years. Whatever challenges you’re facing, chances are they know a solution.

Cost isn’t the only factor to consider when deciding whether to buy an application, build something yourself or use an SDK. You also need to think about ease of integration.

Compatibility: “This technology won’t work for us”

KeyLines is easy to deploy. It’ll run in any modern browser, on any device.
KeyLines is easy to deploy. It’ll run in any modern browser, on any device.

Whichever option you choose (open source or commercial) the end result must be compatible with your existing setup and be able to scale to enterprise demands.

The KeyLines team understands this requirement, and is constantly working (and testing) to meet it.

KeyLines is easy to deploy. It’ll run in any modern browser, on any device. It works entirely client-side, meaning you don’t need to install specific software or create visualization infrastructure. We’ve also built connectors for all the most popular graph databases, and integrations for several JavaScript frameworks, so you can code in the way that works best for you.

Every KeyLines release is rigorously tested on a growing array of devices and browsers. When you deploy your final product, you know it’ll work for everyone – even on the CEO’s new tablet. As exciting as a DIY project may be, open source projects rarely take account of these requirements and companies don’t have time to solve the problem themselves.

Now let’s turn our attention to functionality.

Functionality: “We have specific functional requirements”

With KeyLines, you can easily build a UX that makes sense for your users, their data and the questions they need to answer.
With KeyLines, you can easily build a UX that makes sense for your users, their data and the questions they need to answer.

For the fastest route to data insight, your users need powerful data visualization capability, presented in a way that makes sense to them. It’s important to offer them functionality that delivers real and useful insight – whether it’s layouts, social network analysis measures, temporal analysis, geospatial analysis or the ability to group and filter data.

You could invest developer time into building that functionality with an open source library, but can you guarantee that it’ll work together as a slick, engaging experience?

We’ve worked with hundreds of companies in the cyber, fraud and law enforcement industries – among others – and we’ve figured out the workflows and user experiences that are the most powerful when it comes to delivering insight.

With KeyLines, you can easily build a UX that makes sense for your users, their data and the questions they need to answer.

Finally, let’s look at what happens when things go wrong.

Bugs: “When can we expect a fix?”

Bugs are rare, but when they do happen it’s our job to fix them before your users notice.
Bugs are rare, but when they do happen it’s our job to fix them before your users notice.

When there’s a bug in your software, you need to fix it fast. However, given the nature of open source, the only way for companies to fix bugs is to spend time figuring it out themselves, receive help from the community or invest in third-party support.

With KeyLines, you have access to a support team staffed by core KeyLines developers, training, consulting, and support documentation to ensure that your application runs smoothly.

Bugs are rare, but when they do happen it’s our job to fix them before your users notice.

And the winner is…

Open source code libraries vs. commercial SDKs - which is it going to be?
Open source code libraries vs. commercial SDKs – which is it going to be?

Ultimately, you need to choose the option that will help your company achieve its network visualization goals, your vision, delight your end users and deliver on time. So, which is it going to be?

Want to see the benefits our SDK has to offer? Request a free KeyLines trial

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