Monday, September 17, 2012

Why this blog?

I loved Tableau when I found it better than 5+ years ago because it embraced a novel approach: removing the friction from the process of accessing, organizing, and analyzing data.

Compared to the products that were dominant in the marketplace it was an absolute revelation. But it's not perfect—there are lots of little grains of sand in the gears that might not be too bad individually, but in combination impose a substantial cognitive load.

As Tableau moves forward adding functionality it's going to be very interesting to see how it evolves. Will time and attention be spent finding and removing the sand, or will the pressure to add new features dominate, leaving the existing irritations in place, and adding new ones.

So far it feels like new features and functionality are being added by individual developers, each perhaps reasonable in isolation, but out of synch enough with the other parts to be just a little, and sometimes a fair bit, jarring.

I started writing this blog as a place to keep track of all the little things that irritate me as I use Tableau.

Part of the reason is because I'm something of a purist—I believe that the best tools should be as good as they can be.

Partly it's because I have an attachment to Tableau—it's what made BI interesting again after a decade and a half of boredom listening to the droning on and on of data warehousing's blathering at the alter of big-Big-BIGGER-BIGGEST tooling as the only way to make sense out of data.

Some of it was a shameless attempt to get Tableau to hire me to come and help fix their product—if I had a good, solid comprehensive list of things I could fix I could talk my way into getting them to let me do it. I've talked to a fair number of Tableau people, many of whom are very sympathetic. But nobody at Tableau seems interested in hiring someone who's only going to be cleaning and tidying up. I get the sense that the emphasis is on moving the product forward by adding more to it.

But why do I care, really?

Because I believe that computers should help us, and get out of the way absolutely as much as possible.

I once worked for a company that had a product much like Tableau, that busted down the barriers between people and data and made it easy and straightforward to explore and find information and insights in the data. But that company forgot what made then product special - its simplicity and ease of use - and went down the path of adding more and more cruft and crap onto the basic product, layering more and more friction onto it until it lost its way and failed to live up to its promise.


  1. Short response: Hear, hear!

    Longer response: There are so many ways the "fit and finish" of Tableau could be improved (kerning, spacing, formatting, color controls, layout control, etc.), I can totally understand the desire to push the company and the product to do more in that area. And I think your last paragraph is really key - if Tableau doesn't pay attention here, in the long run they will open themselves to disruption by a new entrant who might not do everything Tableau can do (in the same way Tableau disrupts traditional big BI by not offering an entire end to end solution), but removes those points of friction.

    My fantasy is for Tableau to enable to me to create NYTimes-quality graphs and dashboards with all the ease of use Tableau already has.

  2. Hi Chris,

    I'm a software engineer at Tableau and I recently came across this site.

    Thanks for keeping us honest, and more importantly, keeping a detailed list of the friction points that arise with each new product release. We're definitely sympathetic to such concerns, and part of the challenge in addressing them is simply keeping track of all of these pain points and trying to prioritize them. Our improvements to the Community section of our site help to some degree by allowing our user base to suggest and vote on improvements.

    I'll also point out that we're more than just sympathetic, we're actively hiring for positions which are dedicated to polishing good features to make them great. We recognize the need to balance rapid innovation with the challenge of maintaining high standards of quality. As Tableau grows as a company we will certainly have a more rapidly evolving feature set and suite of products, but we will also have the ability to dedicate entire teams to focusing on improving the quality of our features. Recently we've been hiring in this area for Desktop features handled by a team called User Experience Improvement. Take a look for yourself:

    Keep up the constructive criticism and feedback! We count on users such as yourself to keep us informed about how you use our features and what improvements matter the most.

    Robert Morton (@TableauDataNerd)

  3. Hi,
    I am a BI Engineer at Amazon and came to your site. Your articles are very helpful for me to learn more about Tableau and inspired me to continue working on my blog.
    Eva (@evafengeva)