You have no doubt seen a Tableau chart before. They tend to be sleek, interactive, and intuitive. And they have already appeared in the Wall Street Journal, CNN Money, and CBS Sports among other places. The software is loved by many and quickly becoming the industry standard for those who DON'T necessarily consider themselves to be analysts.
And it just became much easier for the non-analyst set to create excellent interactive charts with the recent release of Tableau Public, a new tool that puts the power of Tableau into the hands of everyone. This free version of Tableau was released earlier this year to much fanfare. We have sliced and diced all its details below, so please have a read.
We will wrap up with final thoughts next week with a benchmark that would make Tufte proud. Be sure to check back for an interesting look at all three tools, pitted side by side, embedded in this blog, so you can interact with each and make your own judgments.
|Free Version available||Yes|
|Ease of Use||Easy|
|Embeddable (into a web page)||Yes|
|Comments / Discussion||No|
|Software Required||Tableau Public Software (free) or Tableau Desktop|
|Export Formats||CSV, PNG, PDF|
|Data Storage||50 Mb|
|Maturity (age of software)||< 1 year (although Tableau software is 5 years old)|
|Customer Service||None provided, but Tableau employees are very active on Twitter, LinkedIn, FB, and their forums.|
|Data Import Formats:|
|other||If you purchase their Desktop or Desktop Pro software, you will be able to use many more data sources such as mySQL, SQL Server, PostgreSQL, DB2, Teradata, Oracle, etc.|
Ability to make rich dashboards for sharing. Interactive features are very robust. Community can filter the data you present, highlight it, and sort the data in various ways. Community can also download data and export any view they create.
- Extremely robust software that is rock solid. It's now on version 5.1.
- Very easy to use. Simple drag and drop interface.
- Ability to add subtotals, totals, and other calculations.
- Can have multiple worksheets in a file.
- Dashboards with a flexible worksheet layout.
- Easy to customize.
- All data becomes public.
- There is no option for private groups.
- Can only save to the web (cannot save a working copy locally).
- Must use stand alone software that is only PC compatible (for creation, not for viewing).
- No text analysis.
- Mapping is limited compared to other tools.
I have been using Tableau Desktop for over two years and find it to be an indispensible tool. Tableau Public is a great option for students, casual users, or those who simply don't have the budget for the desktop version of the tool. It essentially allows you to use the desktop tool with a few limitations. If you can live within those limitations, then Tableau Public will be heaven to you.
Using Tableau is extremely easy. Simply choose your data source and it will show you the available fields, categorized according to their type. Choose the variables that are important to you - say, X, Y, and Z - then choose "Show Me." Tableau will make the most appropriate chart for the data you provided. It sometimes does some funny things here, but generally speaking, it's pretty smart about suggesting the best visualization. From here you can easily add and remove data points, choose different charts, customize the appearance, and add filters and legends.
You can also add multiple worksheets to create different charts from the same data. Adding a dashboard to layout your different worksheets is simple too.
When you're happy with your visualization, simply upload to the Tableau Public site with the click of a button. It's just that easy. Share the link with your friends and colleagues or publish to your own site. Once it's on the site your community can view and interact with your visualization. They can filter, drill down, and zoom in among other things.
I will note that people tend to miss the buttons at the bottom of each visualization. These are GREAT little nuggets of utility. Users can select some data in the chart they're looking at. Then they can view the actual underlying data in a table. They can also download the data (CSV) or export a PNG or PDF. It can be shared on websites and blogs. There are many incredible ways to share and use the information provided in a Tableau Public visualization.
Tableau states that your workbooks will become "public," however, so far it appears that they only display their featured workbooks in a gallery. You will actually have to share your URL with folks if you want them to find your work. Unfortunately, there is no public gallery as there is with Swivel and Many Eyes. My guess is that Tableau wants to have curatorial control over what is displayed.
I think the biggest drawback is that the software is not Mac compatible. Tableau has primarily been used as a business analytics tool, but it is now being used by journalists, students, and designers. It needs to extend beyond its boundaries of the PC world.
In my opinion, one of the greatest features is something quite simple: a back button. Whatever you do, you can always back button your way back out of trouble.
For the Purists
Okay, so Tableau allows you to make proportional pie charts and place them in a thematic map. What's wrong with that? Well, that is just wrong. Actually, Tableau Public is a purists dream. Tableau does much of the work for you, so it's hard to get into too much trouble.
For the Aestheticians
Font, chart, and shading colors are fully customizable. (However, font face customization will be lost once published online.) While you can do some great charting with Tableau Public, there are no progressive charts available such as stream graphs or treemaps.
Furthermore, if you are into information storytelling like we are, you can use Tableau Public as a starting point to explore your data to find relationships and relevant information from your data. So even if you do not publish your viz, it's a nice tool for gaining insight.
|line chart||Yes||scatter plot||Yes|
|area chart||No||bubble graph||Yes|
|block histogram||Yes||word tree||No|
|stacked bar chart||Yes||tag cloud||No|
|stacked area chart||No||phrase net||No|
|tornado chart||No||word cloud generator||No|
|donut chart||No||network diagrams||No|
|polar graph||No||matrix chart||Yes|
|bullet graph||Yes||world map||Yes|
|various map projections||No|
|mosaic plot||No||choropleth map||No (only through built-in US Census layers)|
|heat matrix||Yes||distorted map||No|
|dashboard widgets||No||other||dual axis line chart, crosstab, Gantt|
Be sure to check back next week when we'll culminate these three reviews with a fascinating benchmark. Stay tuned and please let us know your interests and ideas in the comments below!
Kim Rees is a partner at Periscopic, a socially-conscious Information Visualization firm specializing in helping nonprofit organizations and like-minded companies convey important messages and elevate public awareness.