Getting Started with Silk

Silk is a newish data-visualization platform that combines visualization with web-publishing. You import a spreadsheet into your “Silk,” visualize it in various ways, and then hit “Publish” to create a website. One nice thing about Silk is that your viewers can play with the visualizations, too; Silk allows them to filter and manipulate the data themselves.

We’ll try out Silk today to see if we like it. Start by opening up the browser of your choice, like Safari, Firefox, or Chrome. It’s easiest if you open up two browser windows: one for these instructions and one for Silk. That way you can look at both at the same time.

Sign up for a Silk account


Go to and fill in the information. You can call your silk whatever you’d like.

Get the Google Spreadsheet URL


For convenience, I’ve shortened the URL to the Google spreadsheet we’ll use, but Silk won’t accept that shortened URL. Instead, open a new tab in your browser and type in Once the Google spreadsheet opens in that tab, copy the URL from the address bar.

Link to your Google spreadsheet


Click on Google Spreadsheet and paste in the URL you just copied.

Give Silk some info about your data


To make your data a little easier to read, click on the little pencil at the far right side of the top line (labeled Collection) and rename the collection Animals. For Datacard title, choose Object Title, since that’s a little more meaningful than Record ID. When you’re satisfied, click on Start Import.

Explore your datacards


Each card represents a row in the spreadsheet. If you want, you can filter your datacards by clicking on Add Inline Filter and choosing a category like Type of Animal or Produced. (To get rid of a filter, just click the tiny X.)

Make a mosaic


If you click on the Mosaic button on the top of the page, Silk will display only the images from your datacards. You can filter the animals in the same way you did earlier.

Publish your mosaic


Every time you create a visualization with Silk, you can publish it to a public page by clicking Publish. Once you do, Silk will take you to an editing view of your public page. There, you can give your visualization a new title and edit it. You can even embed a visualization on another web page, by clicking Share & Embed. To get back to creating visualizations, click on Explore.

Create a map


On the Explore pane, click on the Map button. From the dropdown menu underneath Location, choose Produced (because that’s the best location info we have). Silk should automatically map your data.

If you want to be extra-fancy, choose a value under the Color by dropdown menu. Again, you can publish your map if you’d like.

Group the animals


Click on Groups and then Type of Animal to put your animals in groups. You can try other groupings, too, like Date and Produced.

Make a pie chart that shows your groups


Click on the Pie button to visualize your groups.

Filter those groups by country


Click on Add inline filter and select Produced from the dropdown menu. Then choose a country. The pie chart will be redrawn, showing only the animals from that country.

Switch from a pie chart to a bar chart


Leave the options as they are, except click on Bars at the top of the page. The graph will be redrawn as a bar chart.

Now you try


Produce the following visualizations and publish them to your Silk homepage:

  1. A pie chart that shows the countries in which the dog figurines were produced.
  2. A bar chart that shows the materials the animals were made out of.
  3. A scatterplot that shows you height versus width for all the animals. Which animal is unusually tall and thin?
  4. A scatterplot that shows you the height versus width for all the animals produced in Australia.
  5. A map that shows you where all the cows came from.

Give your Silk homepage a new name and try to accomplish the following tasks:

  1. Can figure out how to embed a video on your Silk homepage?
  2. How about a file?
  3. Can you figure out how to change the order of the sections on your Silk homepage?
  4. Can you figure out how to write a paragraph of text introducing your page?