Saturday, March 21, 2015

Debfrief: SFBATUG Event at Twitter HQ March 19, 2015


I attended the San Francisco Bay Area Tableau User Group (SFBATUG) event held at Twitter HQ in downtown San Francisco on March 19, 2015.

The session offered four "lightning" presentations from Tableau legends/Zen Masters John Mathis (Slalom Consulting), Daniel Seisun (Twitter), Anya A'Hearn (Datablick), and Allan Walker (Slalom Consulting). Ashley Ohmann (K-Force) officiated the event.

As this tweet shows, it was a packed house:


First up was John Mathis. John showed the audience how to use Tableau to present complex data generated in R. The process involved calculating the values in R on a local R server, then saving the result set as an RDA file. Directing Tableau to the data set in that R file means one can use Tableau's superior graphical engine and viz tools to make the data come to life for an audience already using Tableau.

Of course, if you are an R wiz, used to delivering results from R to your constituents, adding Tableau into the mix isn't a required step. As with any tool chain, consider the consumer of the data and the mechanism that makes receiving - and understanding - the data most convenient.


Next, Daniel Seisun gave a primer on the use of Tableau at Twitter. Daniel's mission has been to move from an in-house BI tool to Tableau while maintaining the flexibility and DIY company culture that the in-house tool provided.

He described to the crowd that his team - of two people, including himself - are responsible for Tableau's adoption and administration across the entire company. Any employee who wants to play with Tableau gets their own virtualized instance to play with. This "sandbox" approach ensures lower administrative overhead for Daniel's team while providing an ad hoc environment for his customers.

Finally, he walked the audience through a series of Python scripts that his team uses to clean out old viz, ensure that users are actually using the tool (and if not reclaim licenses for other new users), and keep the instances performing well.


Daniel suggested that these scripts could be open-sourced. Allan Walker responded by setting up a Tableau git hub moments later. Visit it here and contribute today!


Anya A'Hearn presented next. She told the audience how to find Love on Twitter. No, really.

Anya began showing attendees how to create custom maps (map layers) with MapBox. With custom maps in hand, loaded into Tableau, she then combined layers with geo-coded data from tweets containing #love to create a viz that allows a user to interact with tweets in their area.

Finally, she presented a web-based interface that allowed speakable commands to toggle map layers on and off by person, location, and sentiment.


The final presenter, Allan Walker, took customization to a whole new level. He focused on the use of Tableau's JavaScript API to take the viz out of the server environment and give it new life in a new context on the web.

Allan showed the audience several websites with this in action. The first, a simple demo where the viz could be moved around a webpage. He noted that by combining multiple dashboards on a single webpage, the end user could interact with the data in all new ways.

Next he showed how Tableau data could be combined with live map data through JavaScript (hereafter "JS") handlers that send parameters in Tableau to the map to produce customized walk-throughs of San Francisco International Airport.

Taking it out of JS and into WebGL, Allan demo'ed an interactive globe object showing earthquakes around the world. The lucky few attendees with an Android device got an extra "jolt" as this viz/web combo had a haptic feedback program embedded that gave viewers a vibration when interacting with quakes on the map.

His final demo showed how the viewer's own body could be read by the device camera via JS and motion conveyed to an app. Allan's key message was that we need to think outside of our static web framework and consider how we can make the data come alive to any viewer of any ability level. This was a poignant comment that really resonated, and inspired a lot of people in attendance.

Inspired as they were, many have little-to-no JS experience and asked how to get started. Allan's recommendation is to find the many test projects already documented and posted on the web, and use them as a learning tool. Of course, people may wish to undertake a JS primer first. Many such options are available online.


The event was a lot of fun. Kudos to great programming by Anya A'Hearn, excellent work in keeping things rolling by Ashley Ohmann, and of course big thanks to Twitter for providing the space, the food, and the event coordination!