“Big changes” in storytelling: simple and simplistic

The storytelling world shook this morning with this headline from Tableau: “Data storytelling is undergoing a big change.” The blog post lists three changes: scrolling with less clicking, simpler charts, and visualizations that weave into the narrative.

What is really changing? Not much, and to call it “big changes” is worthy of a trashy tabloid newspaper.

Here’s what should change: Tableau’s leadership in storytelling. So far, Tableau has been a hammer that sees only nails. In storytelling, it sees only another use for data visualization.

The trouble here is that this blog post is sheer marketing when the data storytelling genre needs actual leadership right now. That could come from others in the organization. Founders Pat Hanrahan and quasi-founder Jock Mackinlay know what a story is. So does Robert Kosara, a Tableau research scientist.

Any of these three might have put these supposed changes into perspective. What’s changing, I suspect they’d say, is adoption of a simpler style. But they don’t bother with relatively trivial news, only the mighty marketing arm does.

What I’d like to hear from Tableau is help in working out the data story genre — which already includes much more than visualization. Data stories in text can be seen all the time, such as in the New York Times Upshot column.

Help define the genre, Tableau. Don’t squander the promise of storytelling by leaving it all to marketing.

What’s actually changed in storytelling? Not much: Simpler styles, perhaps, but certainly we have the same old, simplistic hype that distorts otherwise useful terms.

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