If George Peck has his way (Peck wrote the only authorized book about Tableau 8 and has also served as the featured speaker in many of the Tableau 8 Roadshow events), the next version of Tableau will add flashy gauges to its library of charts. Here are his thoughts on the matter, as recorded in the latest newsletter from Peck’s consultancy The Ablaze Group:
Why Tableau Should Add a Gauge to Version 9
We’re wrapping up the Tableau 8 Roadshow (having now been shut out of two cities, including our own hometown of Denver, by airport weather cancellations). Tableau 8 is available and is enjoying rave reviews. And, while I was just getting around to fully digesting the old Tableau controversy about removing WikiLeaks visualizations, I just now heard about the new one that erupted when Stephen Few dissed Tableau about version 8. Despite my behind-the-time-ness, I simply must offer a contrast to Mr. Few’s thoughts.
There’s a place for visualization “experts.” Varying points of view are good. Educated opinions on visual best practices contribute to improved toolsets. But, can we all remember that there’s not any one person who knows all, or sees all, about any particular topic? My philosophy about “informed opinions,” including mine, is “Put this in your bucket of thoughts, shake or stir thoroughly, and benefit from the mix.” With this spirit of “mix of opinions” in mind, add the following to your bucket and shake it up.
Tableau should add a gauge mark type to Version 9.
We had an existing SAP BusinessObjects customer (Stephen Few’s never-ending scorn for this product is legendary) who approached us a while back inquiring about Tableau. “Our existing BI system has some issues. Some parts of it are slow and difficult to maintain. Can you give us an idea of where Tableau might improve this?” My reply was, “Sure… let me know where you have particular issues — where are your most painful areas?” But, before we could even begin to address these basic salient points, the prospect took it upon themselves to download a Tableau demo and begin to explore the product. The first follow-up was almost immediate; “How do I create a gauge in Tableau?”
I tried to move the customer back to the initial issues that had, theoretically, been the impetus for their initial inquiry. “Well, we can explore that. But, rather than just trying to mirror your current visuals, can we talk about where you have problems? Maybe there’s a better way, such as use of a bullet chart, to analyze those types of metrics. When can we talk?” The response, “Yeah, let me see when I can work a call into my schedule. But, for now, can you tell me how to create a gauge in Tableau?” I responded with a fairly extensive comparison of gauges versus bullet charts to analyze actual/goal data (this particular customer’s application of gauges). The next, final response: “Sorry, Tableau isn’t right for us.”
Yes, we can talk all day about this customer’s lack of insight, inability/unwillingness to look at anything other than “the way we’ve always done things,” and their refusal to sit down for even a basic discussion of their issues. In other words, this was a fairly normal situation (so, I’m admittedly now adopting the Stephen Few approach of “A few insults never hurt anybody”). In the final evaluation, Tableau’s lack of this ubiquitous mark type immediately prevented this (admittedly uninformed) prospect from discovering the beautiful, blazingly fast, tool that’s Tableau. Once they would have gotten over their gauge-itis, they too would have come on board.
Here’s the bottom line (expressed with an appropriate metaphor relating to New York Mayor Bloomberg’s recent come-uppance from a State Supreme Court): It’s not Tableau’s place to keep the 18 ounce sugary drink off the Mark Type Cafe menu. Visualization Seat Belts may help at the time of the Data Discovery collision, but Stephen Few simply doesn’t have the authority to mandate self-protection by all BI passengers.
Even if they choose to add the following confirmation dialog:
Tableau should offer a gauge in their next major release.
So many wise lessons can be found in this short article. Here’s what I’ve learned from Mr. Peck:
- “There’s a place for visualization ‘experts.'” Thank God for this. Previously, I had my doubts. (I have the impression, however, that my place, according to Peck, is in one of the rings of Dante’s Inferno.)
- To my great disappointment, I have now discovered that I do not know all or see all. At best, I must be satisfied with the status of semi-omniscient demigod.
- All opinions are of equal value. We needn’t vet them, but should just put them all in a hat, shake them up, and then…well I don’t actually know what we’re supposed to do with them next, but somehow we will “benefit from the mix.”
- Software vendors should give customers what they want, even when those things don’t work and are potentially harmful. If you give your customers crap, they will eventually figure out that it’s crap and reject it in favor of the other stuff that you gave them that isn’t crap.
- Teaching data visualization best practices is an attempt to make it illegal for people to do otherwise. Apparently, I don’t have the right to make people do what I want. Damn! Once again my divine self-image has been dismissed as an illusion.
- Visualizing data ineffectively isn’t such a big deal. It’s a lot like using a dirty word. At worst you might offend some prickly data Nazi like me, so go right ahead and do your worst.
You might think that I shouldn’t need to be taught these same lessons over and over again. How many times have I been told that I should shut up and stop caring about visualizing data in ways that actually work? Too many times to count. Chances are, I’ll never learn. I suspect that I will once again toss these lessons into that round object (no, not a hat) that keeps my life uncluttered by nonsense.
As Peck so graciously concedes, everyone has the right to an opinion, even pesky “informed opinions,” and he certainly has a right to his. What concerns me, however, is the degree to which his opinion reflects the perspective of Tableau. I recently learned that when my review of Tableau 8 was published, Tableau employees were forbidden from responding publicly. That makes this brief article by Peck the closest thing to a public response from Tableau that I’ve received.
Not all that long ago, I would have said that George Peck, someone who has supported SAP BusinessObjects for many years and continues to do so today, couldn’t possibly represent the position of Tableau. Now, I’m no longer sure. Unless the ban at Tableau on responding to me publicly is perpetual, I’d love to find out to what extent Tableau is still committed to best practices, which is what once made the product great and unique. Tableau’s customers, especially those who fell in love with the product because it avoided the silly stuff and made it easy to derive real value from data, deserve to know if Tableau has changed course. Who is calling the shots at Tableau these days: sales and marketing, from a near-term perspective of the quick win, or the information visualization experts such as Chris Stolte, Pat Hanrahan, and Jock Mackinlay who built the product with a clear vision rooted in best practices?