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March 22, 2013

An apology to Tableau


Editorial revision: I have updated this blog post to correct a few inaccuracies that I referred to from Stephen Few’s post and I have removed the attack I made on Stephen himself.  We should all keep in mind that what we write can have a long-lasting impact on relationships.  We need to remain civil and keep our comments and thoughts to the subject, not the people. 

Allow me to refer you to this great advice from “22 Things Happy People Do Differently”.  In particular:

  • Don’t hold grudges
  • Treat everyone with kindness
  • Speak well of others
  • Take the time to listen

Now back to the apology.

You may think of me as a bit of a weasel now, and I’m ok with that.  Other than my family, nothing has had a more profound impact on my life than Tableau Software.  Simply said, I love Tableau.  I have no idea where I’d be without Tableau, certainly I wouldn’t be working at Facebook, doing what I love to do every day.  I literally use Tableau every single day.  When I see something in the wild, I’ll often tell myself “I bet I can Tableau that.”  Tableau is so integral in my life that it’s now become a verb.

With all of this in mind, I’ve had time to reflect on some things I said last week and I would like to issue an apology to Tableau.  I got caught up on the emotions of Stephen Few’s post last week and I let that emotion get the best of me.  I replied to Stephen’s post with some critical comments about Tableau that I believe are both honest and accurate.  Obviously I must stand by what I wrote, and there are some core issues that I have, but I must reiterate what a great product Tableau is.  Please, Tableau, accept my sincerest apologies.

There are a three people in particular that helped set me straight, and I thank them.

  1. My wife.  When I told her what I wrote she reminded me of what Tableau has done for me personally and professionally.  Does that mean I can’t be critical?  Absolutely not.  Yet I need to be a bit more thoughtful and courteous in my reactions.  She’s always the angel on my shoulder.
  2. Jonathan Drummey.  Other than Joe Mako, I don’t know anyone that knows Tableau more intimately than Jonathan.  Jonathan said it best: “It's a good sign of us being emotionally involved in the topic.”  I can’t think of any other software product where people are so passionate about the product.  Do you ever hear such passion from MicroStrategy, Qlikview or Spotfire users?  Nope.  Thanks Jonathan for the reminder.
  3. Elissa Fink. Yes, Elissa does work for Tableau.  She gave me the kick in the ass I needed when I responded to Stephen.  When I got a text from her, I knew I had probably crossed a line.  Elissa has had an immeasurable impact on my professional success, including inviting me to speak twice at the Tableau Customer Conference.  She’s the person I call whenever I have a question because I know she’ll shoot straight with me and put me in my place when I need it.  If it weren’t for Elissa, I wouldn’t have discovered my passion for story telling and public speaking.  I’d still be some grumpy project manager, frustrated by IT teams at Coke.

Let me clearly state that I am not upset about what I wrote.  No, it was my opinion at the time. 

Stephen focused on two features in particular that he believes are inappropriate for a visual analysis tool: bubble charts and tree maps.  While I believe that these will get abused by those that don’t know how to use them and that I’ll have some defense to play to offset this abuse, I lost sight of all of the great new features that are coming in Tableau 8.

  1. Freeform dashboards – We can now do a much better job of telling stories and using space more effectively with Tableau 8.  Is this implementation perfect?  No.  Is it better?  Yes, by leaps and bounds.
  2. Multiple data labels – It’s always been a nuisance that you can only have one dimension or measure on that label shelf.  No more!  Have as many as you want.
  3. Significant improvements in Sets. Now you can compare things both inside and outside a set.  Think Venn diagrams.
  4. The new Marks card allows dragging and dropping as many things as you want.  The possibilities for this are endless.

There are three new features that have me particularly excited.

  1. Data blending – You no longer have to include the linked field in your view.  This makes blending a completely seamless experience.
  2. Shared filters – We’ve all heard the question with version 7 and older “How do I apply a filter to only a couple of the views?”  There are workarounds using action filters, but those have always seemed completely unnecessary.  With Tableau 8, you can pick the worksheets you want a filter to apply to.  This is HUGE!
  3. Web authoring – I don’t know the impact this will have quite yet, but I see this as a feature that will help organizations collaborate like they never have before.

So with this post, I hope to re-establish my love with Tableau and I hope they accept my sincerest apologies.  I intended no ill will and only want the best for the product and those that work there.  I consider you all part of my extended family.  I have so much respect and adoration for you all.  There’s no other product like Tableau on the market.  If you haven’t tried Tableau, you should.  It’ll change your life.


  1. Interesting apology. I just reread your post out on Few's site, and I don't think you need apologize so much. Perhaps you didn't focus on the very positive elements of Tableau, which you have done here, but your agreements with Few's main points are valid.
    At least I think so.
    But I too 'love' Tableau. And I think people such as yourself and the people (and others) you mention above are deserving of a lot of credit for Tableau's success.
    Few does himself no favours; he is obviously a strong presence in the field of visualization, but doesn't he know it? A modicum of humility might endear him to more people.
    Thanks for your great blog and FB page - I learn a lot from them.

    1. Thanks Mikey! You're spot on that I didn't focus enough on the positive elements, which I've tried to do here.

    2. Mikey, after going back and re-reading Stephen's post, I have realized that Stephen was not attacking Tableau the company or Tableau the product, but rather their implementation of a few new features. From speaking with people at Tableau, I know that they consult with Stephen on a lot of things and they have an excellent relationship.

      Stephen said "I’m concerned that Tableau is becoming more and more like other software vendors that prioritize product release schedules over quality." Stephen clearly likes where Tableau has been and wants to continue to see it move in a direction that helps us see and understand data more clearly.

      I'm not convinced that this has anything to do with Stephen's humility. I believe, again after re-reading his post, that he's using this as an opportunity to teach us all about his ideas for product development and how products like Tableau, if steered in the wrong direction, can lose sight of what they're good at.

  2. Andy: Apology accepted. Not that I needed one. Hope all is well. Bruce @BESegal

  3. I have to admit I was surprised by your comment on his post. But you and Joe M were commenting on technical aspects of the software that are way above my level of competence, so I figured your opinion was informed.

    I posted on the blog, but he deleted it; I essentially said that a) Tableau adding a few chart styles he didn't like hardly seemed worthy of spewing 6,000 words (I counted) of histrionic vitriol, especially since they didn't take anything away that he liked; and second, that there is a difference between being an opinionated expert, on the one hand, and an arrogant, know-it-all, gotta-be-right, I'm-the-only-one-who-knows-best guy, and that he had crossed that line.

    We've had a couple of back and forth email exchanges since.

    Stephen's response m.o seems to be "I know you are but what am I?" I appreciate his passion and his vision, but as I tweeted, the man really needs to get over himself.

    1. Hey Jon. I've had time to reflect and have posted an update to this post. Essentially I'm asking people, including myself, to keep the comments and ideas relevant to the content itself, not the people that write it. Honestly, if you wrote that same thing to me, I would have deleted it as well.

  4. Andy, no need to apologize! We love a good debate and it's the variety of opinions that make this industry so interesting. I and everyone at Tableau love what you do. You know I'm a huge fan of yours and always will be.

  5. Andy, you're such a mensch. I think this is one of my favourite aspects of Tableau - it's truly a collaborative company. Consequently, it has developed a fantastically collaborative community of decent people like yourself. I was quite disappointed with Few's post as I felt he might be becoming too rigid or was using Tableau as an opportunity to take another shot at McCandless. I also have no problem with Tableau adding bubble or tree charts. While I may never use them at work (like pie charts), I would hate to see Tableau become so rigid in it's options as to stifle creativity. Just look at what Amanda Cox has done with bubbles (

    1. Hi Kelly. It's important to make the distinction that Stephen did not attack the product itself, rather the implementation of those features that he wrote about. His blog post also makes no reference to McCandless. He does refer to David in a comment to Simon Rogers, but the shot is not at David himself, rather the charts that he creates. This a subtle, yet important distinction.

      I agree with you that Tableau needs to continue to allow opportunities for creativity. I believe there are good uses of bubbles charts, like when trying to identify outliers. You can find an incredible example of the creativity of people that use Tableau in this blog post by Zen Master Ryan Robitalle.

  6. Andy, it is the hallmark of a great man that you are able to provide a balanced opinion on everything. I stopped following Few also - If you want to attack a produc, attack it on its means. He might make fun of features but there are countless people out there who have to bend and provide these features on user requests before they can go and do great things.

    I love reading your blog for the same reason - You provide facts and commentary

    1. Like me, I think you might want to go back and read Stephen's post again. This has been quite the learning experience for me, I assure you. It's important to make the distinction that Stephen did not attack the product itself, rather the implementation of those features that he wrote about.

      As an example for your comment about having to bend the rules, check out this article from the Vancouver Sun.

    2. I struggle to see the distinction between attacking a product and attacking an implementation of the features of a product. The features define the product; attacking their implementation literally is attacking the product - it's criticising how the product performs its function.

      The clue is in the title of Few's article: "Tableau Veers from the Path". He very much says that Tableau (the company) has lost the original focus of their vision and that this is reflected in the emerging quality of the most recent evolution of Tableau (the product). I did read it as more of a lament for a missed opportunity than an outright attack on a product that has somehow betrayed all he holds dear, but his article is most definitely a criticism of the company and the product and I just can't see how it can be read any other way.