Tableau does Web 0.2... but that's just a first step - InformationWeek

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11/6/2007
03:27 PM
Seth Grimes
Seth Grimes
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Tableau does Web 0.2... but that's just a first step

In a year when the Net is abuzz about Web 2.0, Tableau Server, out this week, qualifies as Web 0.2. But don't get me wrong. Tableau Software's first foray onto the Web is a modest step when considered in light of Web 2.0 agendas, and also in light of the very high expectations created by the company's stand-alone Tableau Desktop application. It is not, however, a failure. Rather it shows caution, implicit care to get it (collaborative Web computing) right and not overextend and underdeliver.

In a year when the Net is abuzz about Web 2.0, Tableau Server, out this week, qualifies as Web 0.2. But don't get me wrong. Web 2.0 is about social media and collaboration, user-driven integration, on-demand access, and a first level of semantic search and discovery. On the back-end, Web 2.0 is about network-accessible services that enable all that stuff. Tableau Software's first foray onto the Web is a modest step when considered in light of Web 2.0 agendas, and also in light of the very high expectations created by the company's stand-alone Tableau Desktop application. It is not, however, a failure. Rather it shows caution, implicit care to get it (collaborative Web computing) right and not overextend and underdeliver.Desktop is a tool for visual exploration of multidimensional data. It enables graphical presentation of data - via a slew of charting options - along the inner dimensions of multidimensional pivot tables. The interface is highly interactive, with drag-and-drop table composition and manipulation, perfect for interactive, exploratory analyses.

Server complements Desktop with a mechanism for analysts to publish data views for Web-browser access and for licensed end-users to retrieve and manipulate those published objects. Server end users can filter (subselect) and sort the data in a published analytical object, page through slices (i.e., values of one of the variables in a multidimensional pivot table), follow guided analysis, and search. Server end users can tag and comment on what they see, publishing what they've entered back to the Server.

Server is Web publishing++, an incremental improvement on posting PDFs or graphics to a Web site for sharing. Server's capabilities do not represent collaborative analysis, what I had hoped to see (given high expectations created by Desktop) when I first learned about Server.

Collaborative analytics would allow a community to share data objects with the ability to reach through to the underlying datasets and create and re-publish new objects, bound with some form of version and workflow management. True collaborative analyses would enable joint data exploration by a community of users that would go far beyond Tableau Server's publish-manipulate-tag capabilities.

I don't know if Tableau is heading in the Web 2.0 direction. Tableau Server pricing, which starts at $15,000 per server plus $500 or $150 per named user for an "interactor" and a "viewer," respectively, indicates that the software is not intended for large user communities, much less for public data dissemination. At any rate, according to the company, Server doesn't have the capacity to host large audiences. Tableau VP Elissa Fink briefed me on the Server release but did not respond to my follow-up query whether the company is working toward what I have defined as true collaborative analytics.

Tableau released a similar desktop tool this week, Tableau Reader. Users have the same capability as Server end users to open and manipulate published data objects. Unlike Server, Reader is free for end users, and the company compares it to Adobe's free Acrobat Reader. The comparison is inapt: anyone can create an Acrobat PDF file, and PDFs are ubiquitous. You need Tableau Desktop to create objects for Tableau Reader.

Web 2.0 is all the buzz. The possibility of over-the-Web, collaborative, Tableau-style visual analytics would be really intriguing, but what's even more compelling is software that offers a fresh and powerful approach, even if conventionally delivered: Tableau Desktop with data delivery enhanced via Tableau Server and Tableau Reader.


Seth Grimes is an analytics strategist with Washington DC based Alta Plana Corporation. He consults on data management and analysis systems.In a year when the Net is abuzz about Web 2.0, Tableau Server, out this week, qualifies as Web 0.2. But don't get me wrong. Tableau Software's first foray onto the Web is a modest step when considered in light of Web 2.0 agendas, and also in light of the very high expectations created by the company's stand-alone Tableau Desktop application. It is not, however, a failure. Rather it shows caution, implicit care to get it (collaborative Web computing) right and not overextend and underdeliver.

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