Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Mixed feelings about Tableau

I've been using Tableau (besides Adobe Illustrator) in my visualization/infographics classes this semester. After playing with it myself, I thought that it was worth a try. It's powerful and it certainly works well for analyzing large data sets but, after thinking a lot about it, I have some misgivings that I've shared on Twitter. I'm copying them below.

The main one is the comparison with Flash. I think that one of the main reasons why so many news organizations and professional designers aren't willing to adopt Tableau is the bad memories of the Flash debacle, a few years ago*. A proprietary tool that doesn't give you access to some sort of underlying code —Javascript or otherwise; something that isn't proprietary, in any case— after exporting your graphics won't be attractive to most people in my fields. If it becomes obsolete (and all technologies become obsolete, eventually,) your old work will become useless.

(*I am aware that the news and graphic design markets may not be interesting for Tableau, of course; Big money comes from other places!)

Anyway, here are the thoughts, plus links to some open source tools
(Correction: Gregor Aisch has pointed out that many of these tools aren't open source or even "free" in the strict sense of the word; Gregor has suggested his own Datawrapper as a tool that is. I should have included it in the mix.)