Tableau Public Review, the Sequel

My review of the free public version of Tableau remains the most popular in the history of this blog. When I received an email informing me that version 8 of the software was available for download, I couldn’t resist.

Better and easier

Installation was a snap on my notebook. I watched the introductory video that’s embedded in the application, but didn’t really need it to dive in. I began by playing with some data I had pulled from the Federal Reserve and the Bank of International Settlements on exchange rates and relative purchasing power of different countries’ currencies over several years. As I mentioned in my first review, Tableau tries to guess the semantic  “architecture” of your data on the fly. If you’re working with an Excel sheet, it does a terrific job. When I pulled in the BIS data I downloaded, Tableau Public automatically detected the time dimension from the date-formatted column. My luck was not as good with the CSV file I pulled from the Fed. There I had to convert it to Excel and format the date columns as dates before Tableau would recognize them. Still, for someone with a little Excel skill that’s not a big deal, so I’m not complaining.

I was able to pretty quickly create and save the “viz” below (which is what Tableau calls its visualizations). The chart compares the relative purchasing power of the Australian, Hong Kong, and United States dollars over the past decade or so. It was easy to plot the data, change the colors, and throw in trend lines. The long and short of this is that it doesn’t pay to peg your currency to the greeenback. Hong Kong has done this, but their purchasing power suffers by comparison to the Aussie, which floats freely. It also suffers by comparison to the greenback (steeper slope of decline). Pegging your currency to the U. S. dollar may make sense when the dollar is strong, but when it’s weak you’re simply importing inflation, yet not getting the “flight to safety” benefit of being a reserve currency. It’s no wonder the HK government is moving away from this policy.

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(Author’s note: When I first reviewed the older version of Tableau Public, I had trouble getting the viz to display in WordPress, the blogging platform I use here. I ran into problems this time also. In fairness to Tableau I did some further testing on a different WordPress installation that uses a simpler theme and the embedded viz displayed just fine. Therefore, something in the theme I’m using is breaking Tableau rather than the other way around. I worked around it this time by creating a separate web page for my viz and sticking it in an iframe on this page. The lesson for bloggers is this: If you want to make heavy use of Tableau Public vizzes on your site, make sure your blogging solution — and associated add-ons, plug-ins, etc. — supports them before committing to the platform.)

Circling back

After that, I went back to look at a viz I had created for that initial review, on U. S. exports of refined petroleum. The viz was updated to the new version as soon as I brought it in. From what I can see, the biggest complaint I recall besides trouble with displaying the vizzes in WordPress (failing to recognize Myanmar) has been addressed. Nice!

The bottom line is that Tableau Public 8 is better and easier to use than its predecessors. If you’re curious about something, just right click it and you can see all your options. If you prefer not to explore, or don’t have time, there’s a wealth of multimedia information available on the Tableau website. Once you get used to it, Tableau is hoping that you’ll want to use the professional (pay) version. Thus far it seems to be working well for them.


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