Creating Data Stories with Tableau Public

By Ashley Ohmann , Matt Floyd
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    Getting Started with Tableau Public
About this book

Tableau Public is a very useful tool in anyone's data reporting toolbox that allows authors to add an interactive data element to any article. It allows investigative journalists and bloggers to tell a “data story”, allowing others to explore your data visualization. The relative ease of Tableau Public visualization creation allows data stories to be developed rapidly. It allows readers to explore data associations in multiple-sourced public data, and uses state-of-the-art dashboard and chart graphics to immerse the users in an interactive experience.

This book offers investigative journalists, bloggers, and other data story tellers a rich discussion of visualization creation topics, features, and functions. This book allows data story tellers to quickly gain confidence in understanding and expanding their visualization-creation knowledge, and allows them to quickly create interesting, interactive data visualizations to bring a richness and vibrancy to complex articles.

The book takes you from basic concepts in visualization creation, like connecting to data sources, cleansing data, chart types, common functions, map creation, and publishing to the Web, to more advanced functions.

It is a great overview and reference guide for beginner to intermediate Tableau Public data story tellers, and covers creation of Tableau Public visualizations of varying complexities.

Publication date:
November 2015
Publisher
Packt
Pages
218
ISBN
9781849694766

 

Chapter 1. Getting Started with Tableau Public

Making sense of data is a valued service in today's world. It may be a cliché, but it's true that we are drowning in data and yet, we are thirsting for knowledge. The ability to make sense of data and the skill of using data to tell a compelling story is becoming one of the most valued capabilities in almost every field, which includes business, journalism, retail, manufacturing, medicine, and public service. Tableau Public (for more information, visit www.tableaupublic.com), which is Tableau Software's free Cloud-based data visualization client, is a powerfully transformative tool that can be used to create rich, interactive, and compelling data stories. It's a great platform if you wish to explore data through visualization. It enables your consumers to ask and answer questions that are interesting to them.

This book is written for people who are new to Tableau Public and who would like to learn how to create rich, interactive data visualizations from publicly available data sources that they then can easily share with others. Once you publish visualizations and data to Tableau Public, they are accessible to, and can be viewed and downloaded by, everyone. A typical Tableau Public data visualization contains public data sets such as sports, politics, public works, crime, census, socioeconomic metrics, and social media sentiment data. You can also create and use your own data. Many of these data sets are either readily available on the Internet, or can be accessed via a public records request or search (if they are harder to find, they can be scraped from the Internet). You can now control who can download your visualizations and data sets, which is a feature that was previously available only to paid subscribers. Tableau Public currently has a maximum data set size of 10 million rows and/or 10 GB of data.

In this chapter, we will walk through an introduction to Tableau, which includes the following topics:

  • A discussion on how you can use Tableau Public to tell your data story

  • Examples of organizations that use Tableau Public

  • Downloading and installing the Tableau Public software

  • Logging in to Tableau Public

  • Creating your own Tableau Public profile

  • Discovering the Tableau Public features and resources

  • Having a look at the author profiles and galleries section of the Tableau website so that we can browse other authors' data visualizations (this is a great way to learn and gather ideas on how to best present data)

 

A Tableau Public overview


Tableau Public allows you to tell your data story and create compelling and interactive data visualizations that invite discovery and education. Tableau Public is sold at a great price—free. It allows you as a data storyteller to create and publish data visualizations without learning how to code or having special knowledge about web publishing. In fact, you can publish data sets of up to 10 million rows or 10 GB to Tableau Public in a single workbook. Tableau Public is a data discovery tool. It should not be confused with enterprise-grade business intelligence tools, such as Tableau Desktop and Server, QlikView, and Cognos Insight. Those tools integrate with corporate networks and security protocols as well as server-based data warehouses. Data visualization software is not a new thing. Businesses have used software to generate dashboards and reports for decades. The new twist comes with data discovery tools, such as Tableau Public. Journalists and bloggers who would like to augment their reporting of static text and graphics can use these data discovery tools, such as Tableau Public, to create compelling, rich data visualizations, which may consist of one or more charts, graphs, tables, and other objects that can be controlled by readers to allow for discovery.

The people who are active members of the Tableau Public community have a few primary traits in common— they are curious, generous with their knowledge and time, and enjoy conversations that relate data to the world around us. Tableau Public maintains a list of blogs of data visualization experts who use Tableau Software.

In the following screenshot, Tableau Zen Masters Anya A'hearn of Databrick and Allan Walker used data on San Francisco bike sharing to show the financial benefits of Bay Area Bike Share, a city-sponsored 30-minute bike sharing program, as well as a map of both the proposed expansion of the program and how far a person can actually ride a bike in half an hour.

This dashboard is featured in the Tableau Public gallery because it relates data to users clearly and concisely. It presents a great public interest story (commuting more efficiently in a notoriously congested city) and then grabs the viewer's attention with maps of current and future offerings. The second dashboard within the analysis is significant, as well. The authors described the Geographic Information Systems (GIS), the tools that they used to create innovative maps, as well as the methodology that went into the final product so that the users who are new to the tool can learn how to create a similar functionality for their own purposes:

The preceding image is republished under the terms of fair use. It was created by Anya A'hearn and Allan Walker. (Source: https://public.tableausoftware.com/views/30Minutes___BayAreaBikeShare/30Minutes___?:embed=y&:loadOrderID=0&:display_count=yes.)

As humans, we relate our experiences to each other in stories, and data points are an important component of stories. They quantify phenomena and, when combined with human actions and emotions, can make them more memorable. When authors create public interest story elements with Tableau Public, readers can interact with the analysis, which creates a highly personal experience and translates into increased participation and decreased abandonment. It's not difficult to embed Tableau Public visualizations into websites and blogs. It is as easy as copying and pasting the JavaScript that Tableau Public automatically renders for you.

Using Tableau Public increases accessibility to stories too. You can view data stories on any mobile device with a web browser and then share it with friends via social media sites such as Twitter or Facebook using Tableau Public's sharing functionality. Stories can be told with text as well as popular and tried-and-true visualization types such as maps, bar charts, lists, heat maps, line charts, and scatterplots. Maps are particularly easier to build in Tableau Public than most other data visualization offerings because Tableau has integrated geocoding (down to the city and postal code) directly into the application. Tableau Public has a built-in date hierarchy that makes it easy for users to drill through time dimensions just by clicking on a button. One of Tableau Software's taglines, Data to the People, is a reflection not only of the ability to distribute analyses sets to thousands of people at once, but also of the enhanced abilities of nontechnical users to explore their own data easily and derive relevant insights for their own community without having to learn a slew of technical skills.

 

Telling your story with Tableau Public


The Tableau Software was originally imagined in the Stanford University Computer Science department, where a research project sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense was launched to study how people can rapidly analyze data. This project merged two branches of computer science—the understanding of data relationships and computer graphics. This mash-up was discovered to be the best way for people to understand and sometimes digest complex data relationships rapidly and, in effect, help readers consume data. This project eventually moved from the Stanford campus to the corporate world, and Tableau Software was born. The usage and adoption of Tableau has since skyrocketed. At the time of writing this book, Tableau is the fastest growing software company in the world and now, Tableau competes directly with older software manufacturers for data visualization and discovery, such as Microsoft, IBM, SAS, Qlik, and Tibco, to name a few.

Most of these are compared by Gartner in its annual Magic Quadrant. For more information, visit http://www.gartner.com/technology/home.jsp.

Tableau Software's flagship program, Tableau Desktop, is a commercial software used by many organizations and corporations throughout the world. Tableau Public is the free version of Tableau's offering, and it is typically used with nonconfidential data either from the public domain or the one that we collected ourselves. This free public offering of Tableau Public is truly unique in the business intelligence and data discovery industry. There is no other software like it—powerful, free, and open to data story authors.

Tip

There are a few terms in this book that might be new to you. You, as an author, will load your data into a workbook, which will be saved into the Tableau Public Cloud.

A visualization is a single graph. It, typically present on a worksheet. One or more visualizations can be on a dashboard, which is where your users will interact with your data.

One of the wonderful features about Tableau Public is that you can load data and visualize it on your own. Traditionally, this has been an activity that was undertaken with the help of programmers at work. With Tableau Public and new blogging platforms, nonprogrammers can develop data visualization, publish to the Tableau Public website, and embed the data visualization on their own website. The basic steps to create a Tableau Public visualization are as follows:

  • Gather your data sources, usually in a spreadsheet or a .csv file

  • Prepare and format your data to make it usable in Tableau Public

  • Connect to the data and start building data visualizations (charts, graphs, and other objects)

  • Save and publish the data visualization to the Tableau Public website

  • Embed your data visualization in your web page by using the code that Tableau Public provides

Tableau Public is used by some of the leading news organizations across the world, including The New York Times, The Guardian (UK), National Geographic (US), the Washington Post (US), the Boston Globe (US), La Informacion (Spain), and Época (Brazil). In the following sections, we will discuss installing Tableau Public. Then, we will take a look at how we can find some of these visualizations out there in the wild so that we can learn from others and create our own original visualizations.

 

Installing Tableau Public


Now, let's look at the installation steps for Tableau Public:

  1. To download Tableau Public, visit the Tableau Software website at http://public.tableau.com/s/.

  2. Enter your email address and click on the Download the App button located in the middle of the screen, as shown in following screenshot:

    Tip

    The downloaded version of Tableau Public is free and not a limited release or demo version. It is a fully functional version of Tableau Public.

  3. Once the download begins, a Thank You screen gives you the option of retrying the download in case it does not automatically begin or it is downloading a different version. The version of Tableau Public that downloads automatically is the 64-bit version for Windows. Users of Mac should download the appropriate version for their computers, and users with 32-bit Windows machines should download the 32-bit version.

    Tip

    Check your Windows computer system type (32- or 64-bit) by navigating to Start | Computer and right-clicking on the Computer option. Select Properties, and view the System properties. 64-bit systems will be noted as such. 32-bit systems will either state that they are 32-bit systems, or not have any indication of being a 32- or 64-bit system.

  4. While the Tableau Public executable file downloads, you can scroll to the lower part of the Thank You page to learn more about the new features in Tableau Public 9.0. The speed with which Tableau Public downloads depends on the download speed of your network, and the 109 MB file usually takes a few minutes to download.

  5. The TableauPublicDesktop-xbit.msi (where x has a value of either 32 or 64 depending on the version that you selected) file is downloaded. Navigate to that .msi file in Windows Explorer or the browser window and click on Open. Click on Run in the Open File - Security Warning dialog box that appears in the following screenshot. The Windows installer starts the Tableau installation process:

  6. Once you have opted to Run the application, the next screen prompts you to view the License Agreement and accept its terms:

  7. If you wish to read the terms of the license agreement, click on the View License Agreement… button.

    (You can customize the installation if you want to. Options include the directory in which the files are installed as well as the creation of a desktop icon and a Start Menu shortcut (for Windows machines). If you do not customize the installation, Tableau Public will be installed in the default directory on your computer, and the desktop icon and the Start Menu shortcut will be created.)

  8. Select the checkbox named I have read and accept the terms of this License Agreement and click on Install.

  9. If a User Account Control dialog box appears with the Do you want to allow the following program to install software on this computer? prompt, click on Yes:

  10. Tableau Public will be installed on your computer, with the status bar indicating the progress of the installation, as shown in the following screenshot:

  11. When Tableau Public has been installed successfully, the Home screen opens. The next section discusses its features.

Exploring Tableau Public

The Tableau Public home screen, as shown in the following screenshot, has several features that allow you to Connect to data, Open workbooks, and Discover the features of Tableau Public:

Tableau encourages new users to watch the video on this welcome page. To do so, click on the button named Watch the Getting Started Video. You can start building your first Tableau Public workbook any time.

Connecting to data

You can connect to four different data source types in Tableau Public, as shown in the next screenshot, by clicking on the appropriate format name:

  • Microsoft Excel files

  • Text Files with a variety of delimiters

  • Microsoft Access files

  • OData files

Chapter 2, Tableau Public Interface Features, focuses on connecting to data sources and explains this in detail.

 

Opening files and creating your profile


You can open the files that you create in Tableau Public by clicking on the Open from Tableau Public link. When you click on the link, Tableau Public will prompt you to log in with the e-mail address that you have used to create your account, as shown in the following screenshot:

When you enter your e-mail and password, Tableau Public will verify it. Then, you will be able to select the file that you would like to open.

The list of files includes the names, modification dates, and size of the workbooks that you have saved in Tableau Public. It also includes the ability for you to search by entering a string of text.

When you find the workbook that you would like to open, click on Open, and then the most recently saved version will open in Tableau Public on your computer, as shown in the following screenshot:

If you have not created an account, click on the link at the bottom of the screen that says Create one now for free.

The Create a Profile screen requires you to enter information in several fields, as shown in the following screenshot:

Now, let's look at each of these fields:

  • Name: Your Name will be displayed in your profile. You can edit this later if you want.

  • Your Email Address is the identifier that you will use to log in to Tableau Public.

  • Choose a Password, which must consist of at least six characters.

  • Confirm your password.

  • Prove You're Not a Robot. A CAPTCHA is generated for you to verify that you're not a robot when you click on it.

  • Review the Legal requirements and agree to the terms of service.

  • Click on Go to My Profile to complete the creation of your profile.

When you click on to Go to My Profile, your web browser will open your new profile page on Tableau Public. This is a page that displays information that you enter about yourself and your interests as well as a photograph of your choosing and links to other websites with which you're affiliated.

Your profile page also displays and allows you to manage your Tableau Public workbooks. We will discuss the profile in greater detail in Chapter 9, Publishing Your Work.

 

Discover


The right pane of the Tableau Public 9.0 home screen, as shown in the following screenshot, has several features that help you learn how to use the Tableau Public 9.0:

Let's take a look at each of these features:

  • How-to Videos: Tableau has a wealth of online videos. You can view them by clicking on the video names in the pane.

  • If you would like to explore other videos, click on the view all link next to the header. This will open Tableau's training video section of their corporate website in your browser. If the page doesn't open, you can access it by visiting https://public.tableau.com/s/resources.

  • VIZ OF THE DAY: Tableau Public's staff selects a VIZ OF THE DAY from the recent publications on Tableau Public. These are the visualizations that are relevant to current events, explore important questions, and/or innovatively use the functionality of Tableau Public. You can subscribe to the VIZ OF THE DAY and view other selections by visiting https://public.tableau.com/s/gallery.

Resources that you can open include the Tableau Public blog, sample Data Sets, and links to live training. You can view all of these on Tableau Public's resources page in your Internet browser by visiting https://public.tableau.com/s/resources.

 

Exploring the visualizations of other authors


We often learn by viewing other people's work. So, let's take a look at a few data visualizations created by other authors. Note that most Tableau Public data visualizations allow you to download the entire workbook. If data is not readily downloadable on the workbook page, you can export the underlying data to Excel while inside the workbook by using the desktop client of Tableau Public. There are several great places to find the best Tableau Public data visualizations, including Tableau Public and the VIZ OF THE DAY galleries (for more information, visit https://public.tableau.com/s/gallery) and the Tableau Public blog (to have a look at the blog, visit https://public.tableau.com/s/blog).

To make use of a recommended authors and profile finder, visit https://public.tableau.com/s/authors.

The Tableau Public gallery is an excellent place to look at examples of works of others, and the Tableau Public team has curated a set of popular visualizations by topic and number of views.

The recommended authors page (https://public.tableau.com/s/authors) is a fun place to look at both well-known and established Tableau Public authors (bloggers, journalists, and the Tableau staff) as well as lesser known authors to explore their work. You can also access an author's profile page and see their work by clicking on the View Profile button under their name, as shown in the following screenshot:

 

Summary


In this chapter, we had a look at how Tableau Public is commonly used. We also discussed how to download and install Tableau Public, explore Tableau Public's features and learn about Tableau Public, and find other authors' data visualizations using the Tableau Galleries and Recommended Authors/Profile Finder function on the Tableau website. In the next chapter, we will explore data connections and manipulations in Tableau Public.

About the Authors
  • Ashley Ohmann

    Ashley Ohmann started her career in technology as a Flash and HTML developer at the Emory University School of Medicine while studying Classics as an undergraduate at Emory University. After learning how to write SQL to help create a fraud detection system for a client, she pursued information management and data analytics as a vocation. While working for a multinational manufacturing company, she was asked to evaluate Tableau Desktop and Tableau Server; consequently, her team became one of the first to implement the suite of tools for their enterprise.

    Ashley's career with Tableau's products has included work as a consultant, trainer, and a professional services practice director. She is a frequent contributor to the San Francisco and Phoenix Tableau User Groups.

    A native of Highlands, NC and Atlanta, GA, Ashley is a proud alumna of Rabun Gap – Nacoochee School. She also studied German and Chemistry at Mount Holyoke College before graduating from Emory. Ashley's roots go back to south Georgia; she grew up listening to the stories of her large extended family, which inspired her to spend her career helping other people learn how to tell their own stories using a variety of media. Currently, she lives in the Pacific Northwest with her family, where they enjoy skiing, the beauty of God's great creation, and practicing permaculture on their 10 acre farm.

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  • Matt Floyd

    Matt Floyd has worked in the software industry since 2000 and has held career roles from project management to technical writing and business intelligence analysis. His career has spanned many industries, including environment, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, and insurance.

    Matt's hands-on experience with Tableau started in 2008 after evaluating alternatives to reporting and analytical software used by his clients. Since then, he has been a technical writer, implementation engineer, consultant, developer, and analyst in BI projects. His passion for Tableau stems from his fascination of discovery through data and the art, science, and power of data visualization. He is currently interested in text mining and the combination of that data with powerful visualizations that tell fascinating stories. He and his family live in metro Atlanta, and when not stuck in traffic, he sometimes offers musings on his blog covering various visualization topics at http://floydmatt.com/.

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