Tableau Public Review

I was first introduced to Tableau Public a few months ago when I was using it at a job.

As a business intelligence tool, I immediately saw its potential: it could tap into an existing database and visualize it in many different ways. It’s able to understand the schema and data types of what you’re working with to give you a dynamic user interface.  In no time, you can use it to uncover insights (and create dashboards) for reporting and decision-making. While it doesn’t necessarily replace SQL, it’s an added bonus, probably even required for many businesses today. Unfortunately, as the job ended for me, so did my time with the software — until just recently.

Tableau was finally released onto the Mac about a month ago, which includes a free Public version of the software. There are two caveats to using it, however:

  1. It limits you to one Excel spreadsheet as your underlying data. Connecting large databases together is not an option unless you purchase the ~$1,000 version.
  2. Once you come up with something that you’re happy with, you are required to publicly publish it. This is great for news outlets that are happy to give away the data to their audiences anyway, but won’t work if you’re trying to shield names and other kinds of personally identifiable information (PID). Small businesses and investigative publications, however, should consider just making the investment if they have some kind of large data set that they want to wrangle.

The generated graphs look far better than using ones in Excel.  Embedded Tableau graphs are interactive, in the same vein as ones that you’d make in a Google Docs spreadsheet.  The program is much different than what any of these spreadsheet applications offer, and is really not in the same league.  Tableau is “step three” after gathering and cleaning your data sets.

Tableau Public is like a permanent demo version of the professional edition.  If you’re a small-time publication, need to make a nice graph or analysis for one of your classes, or if you like to hang around r/DataIsBeautiful, Tableau Public is a necessary piece of software to have.

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