Ten years ago this month, Tableau made me want data. One magical demo of the almost unknown Tableau desktop tool was like a trapeze act. It looked so easy, so fluid, and so much fun as director of visual analysis Jock Mackinlay showed off daring leaps in rapid succession. I had no data, but that made me want to get some so I could play like that.
At the first Tableau Customer Conference (“customer” was dropped later), July 20, 2008. fewer than 200 people showed up, including staff. I was the one journalist or industry analyst. We stood in crammed corridors and meeting rooms at the 223-room Edgewater Inn on the Seattle waterfront. The hotel could have fit inside the auditorium of last year’s general assembly, with room to breathe.
Still, even our small crowd barely fit inside. The stage on which CEO and co-founder Christian Chabot gave his keynote was so small, and had so many people crowded up around it, that he had barely room to pace.
Back then, Stephen Few, was considered a high priest of data visualization, and he came to give the benediction. At lunch, one pretty young sales person glided over to his table with one of his books and asked him to sign it, which he did happily. “That’s so cool,” she said.
Speaking of lunch, the food was also notable: it was delicious. Thank you, Amy (Schneider) Barone.
The real star, of course, was the little tool that dared to rethink business intelligence. I wrote in in one of two posts here, “They’ve got something good, really good.” In the post “Tableau is the new Apple,” I made what turned out to be a good prediction and told the core story.
The world will be at Tableau’s doorstep soon enough—though I can’t quite understand why it’s not there yet. … If I had to boil down all the stories I’ve heard so far… it would go like this: We heard about it or found it somewhere, perhaps by chance. We had data to analyze, and someone said let’s try that visualization thing you have. Wow, in a day or so we had figured out something astounding about the data. We’ve been using it ever since.
Even in the crowded halls and jammed meeting rooms, background noise never drowned out conversations. Founders Pat Hanrahan, Chris Stolte, Christian Chabot, and Jock (now VP, research and experience) were almost always within sight and ready to talk. And brand new vice president of marketing (later CMO) Elissa Fink actually had a whole 15 minutes to chat, first thing.
I met people there I’m still friends with and who became prolific, interesting sources for blog posts and columns, such as Dan Murray, Joe Mako, Michael Cristiani (who, sadly, passed recently), Jock, Pat, and Elissa.
The outing was a baseball game, where we occupied a handful of seats. I sat next to Jock, who I think appreciated the patterns in the lawn more than the baseball.
He looked at the bands of alternating shades of green left by the mower and said, “That’s an interesting pattern. It’s almost like a visualization.”
Today, you wouldn’t have heard him unless he shouted into your ear, and maybe not even then.
Tableau the tool is today better than ever. The organization is also better managed than ever, I hear, thanks to its new CEO, Adam Selipsky.
But for the old early-Tableau thrill, you have to look into data-industry offshoots, such as sustainable cities. It’s partly about Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, and other tech. But the biggest and most interesting part is where people engage with data. As Tableau showed the world, people will engage if you just get the hell out of the way. Then when truly interesting things happen.
Tableau no doubt has a role in sustainable cities. In any case, that’s where I’m headed, too.
Do you think you might see the next Tableau coming down the chute? I’d like to hear about it, especially if has applications in sustainable-city projects. Let me know!