Friday, November 30, 2018

Tableau's Lost The Helping-People Path

This post is a continuation of a discussion about Tableau's seeming reluctance to improve the product's ease of use.


It might be obvious, but I'm also disappointed that Tableau has effectively abandoned ease of analysis as a primary product principle. My list is only a mere scuff on the onion skin of things that would make Tableau a much better product. Some of them are so simple and easily fixed that their persistence is irritating—it's almost as if Tableau doesn't take the things that bug mere humans seriously. I know this isn't totally true; there are people at Tableau who really do care about these things, which makes the situation more mysterious and, oddly, more vexing.

At its core, the things that Tableau makes really easy to use for analyzing one's data are the handful of operational functions—field selection, sorting, aggregation, calculating new fields, and filtering—that 4GLs made easy in the 1970s, albeit in a mainframe character-mode terminal and line printer world.

Tableau extends this model by providing visual forms appropriate to the analytical context and makes it easy to apply visual characteristics, e.g. colors; although it's always been poor at clarifying its operating principles, e.g. why does the order of double-clicking fields produce different effects.

That pretty much covers Tableau's "best-ever" space.

There are a number of dead simple things that could make Tableau better even in this space, e.g.

  • Getting rid of the default cells' 'Abc' label – it's pretty silly, since the by far dominant purpose of the cell is to contain quantities, and the 'Abc' implies that text is the normal content. Even '123' would be preferable, although it's not without problems.
  • Adding scrolling to the dimensions' part of the viz – the 'Ideas' topic that prompted this discussion.

There's a vast space for improvements in expanding the functional easy-to-do analytical operations horizon: making more things simple, easy, and straightforward.

I spent a lot of time trying to get Tableau to hire me to help, and gave up when they were pointedly not interested.

It seems pretty clear that Tableau's been working very hard to make itself into an enterprise platform - there's a Motley Fool interview with Christian Chabot from a number of years ago (can't quickly find it) where he talks about Tableau's objective being to maximize its market potential in the context of enterprise platform software sales. This has never been a secret. Even as a new company Tableau used an enterprise sales approach: when I bought my Tableau license (money well spent) in 2006 I had to purchase it from an actual salesman who was primarily interested in how many other copies he could sell into the organization I was part of.

Bald-faced self-promotion here.

A couple of years ago I took the opportunity to put together a product proposal and some initial prototypes for a visual data analysis tool targeted at individuals with data they need to understand.

It addresses Tableau's shortcomings, with the advantage of over thirty years' experience in helping people with their data analysis needs—including stints as Product Manager for PC/FOCUS and FOCUS for Unix where we created the first generation of visual data analysis tools (alas, IBI did what Tableau's doing and looked to be more 'technology' than 'human' oriented)

It took the better part of a year and I'm pretty pleased with the product concept and design. Sadly, I'm not part of the 'business' side of this business, and the limited pathways to the resources required to build a real, live tool I've had access to haven't proved fruitful.

So... I'm open to any opportunities to collaborate in creating the next great human-oriented data analysis tool. One that's affordable and makes it simple, easy, and straightforward for non-technical people to connect with and understand the data that matters to them.

Given that Tableau's history strongly suggests that it's not going to revisit its basics and improve its fundamental functionality, I'm waiting for the next great tool to arrive, one that addresses Tableau's friction points and expands the range of what's is simple and easy to do data-analytically.

In the meantime Tableau remains the best tool I've ever found for basic data sense-making and I'll keep happily using it.

No comments:

Post a Comment