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Radical BI

Blogger Nicholas Goodman writes that Tableau’s visual analysis tool is not actually radical or revolutionary. He trivializes it as if it were a Coke machine with a cool new button.

For now, let’s not quibble about the meaning of radical, revolutionary, or button. Let’s not worry about the title of Nicholas’s post, “Sexy vs. experience,” stated as if the two don’t mix. Let’s not even consider the post he refers to, titled “Is it just sexy?” and written by L. Wayne Johnson, which supposedly disagrees with “Tableau is the new Apple” but doesn’t.

Let’s just ponder love of good, simple tools that free your mind.

Most tools are used and forgotten like bad movies. But every now and then, I hear of a tool that inspires trust, devotion and respect for its ability to take you where you want to go.

I’ve known people who’ve loved their old Volkswagens. These cars were easy to work on, and a guy could spend a whole Sunday afternoon fiddling with the engine. It made him feel competent even if everyone else told him he wasn’t.

A friend who once bicycled across Marin County and back every Sunday morning recalls her love for her bike. She knew exactly what it would do in any situation, and it made her feel safe and free.

I’ve loved a mechanical pencil because it was the right weight for my hand and let me forget it as I took notes.

I have also loved certain computer applications, such as Adobe Illustrator. True, it takes time to learn. But once I got its logic, its consistency made the rest simple, which freed me to try things on a whim. That ability to experiment with impunity is one of the best kinds of freedom.

I’m a beginner with the Tableau tool, so I can’t claim any affection for it of my own. But I see already that it has all the makings of a tool that I learn to rely on and, yes, love. Few of the many users I’ve listened to have used that word—it’s not really “professional”—but I recognize in their stories that same devotion and respect I’ve felt for well-designed, simple and responsive machines that speed you along to wherever you want to go.

Imagine it: an inexpensive piece of software that digests whatever data you feed it, that you can learn quickly, and that then helps you reveal the data’s story the way we all understand it best, visually. What you realize at a glance is often surprising, gut-wrenching or thrilling.

Is that radical? Others’ opinions may vary, but I think it is. You can take your choice of data-preparation machines. I’ll take Tableau.

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