Our Infographics and Data Visualization workshops always include spending a few hours using the free Tableau Public software to create interactive data visualizations with charts and maps on the web. Tableau is a great first step for those interested in data visualization online since it’s fairly easy to learn. The newest version (Tableau 10) was released three months ago and has really nice improvements including a long overdue addition of device responsiveness to visualize data across multiple devices.
We use Tableau during the workshop because it doesn’t require the coding skills necessary to use sophisticated tools such as D3.js, the tool behind many of those amazing interactives of The New York Times and others (although today you can code a nice data visualization in R, for example, with just a few lines of code). Tableau is a great exploratory tool that lets you quickly evaluate different options to visualize you data. We actually use it for print graphics as well after saving files as PDFs.
Tableau is a powerful tool but also a great way of starting to think about key concepts in interactivity: about how to use filters, buttons, navigation tool tips or exploratory dashboards to let readers dive deep in your content. It’s used by thousands of corporations as a Business Intelligence/Analytics tool to visualize their data. The free version is a useful tool for individuals and organizations interested in making data public (remember that with Tableau Public you can’t save files locally, they are all saved to Tableau server and available for anyone to see and to download, including the datasets used. You may prefer the Tableau Desktop version but it’s not cheap).
Some of the new features in Tableau 10 include:
- Device responsiveness. You can now generate visualizations optimized for desktop, tablet, and mobile phones. Although far from perfect, it’s a big step forward in Tableau.
- Ability to connect to data stored in Google Sheets. You can set to your visualization to refresh automatically every day, if the underlying data in your Google Sheets file changes.
- A “highlighter” feature gives users added possibilities to sort, find and highlight specific data for ad hoc views and comparisons.
- Cross-database joins: you can join different data sources within the program.
- Custom Territories: Create custom areas in maps using the data built into the geocoding database.
- And finally, a cleaner interface with new iconography, fonts and colors, sporting a cleaner, less cluttered look that I find much nicer.
In addition, the just released Tableau 10.1 includes:
- JSON support. JSON is common file format for web based data, widely used for API-returned data. This means you can download web-based JSON files and start to visualize them right away.
- Automatic clustering is very interesting. Tableau helps identifying interesting patterns from the data by automatically generating clusters based of the groupings/categories specified by the user.