An Open Letter to Public Data

Note: The following is a guest post by Bridget Winds Cogley.

Dear Public Data:

How I love that you’re available to me, that in theory, I can answer the questions to life, the universe, and everything with some smart Google searches. But, Public Data, you may need to sit down for this…

You see, in the days of yore, we’d get this data, make one chart, pop it in a PowerPoint deck and be done with the deal. Maybe we did this for work, or (rarely) for our own curiosity. Maybe it was college or some project that required proving a case. But, for whatever reason, we’d go and pull down the segments of data.

Segment of data. There are 14 other sheets of this.

Or this:

All measures and no dimensions make 1 SPSS dump.

Public Data, I’d like you to meet Tableau Public. You don’t have to try to do it alone anymore. There’s help. And it works.

When the world was small and Excel was limited to a few 32,676 rows, we did some pretty awful things: split sheets, multiple files, what-have-you just to ship it. It’s new world out there, Public Data; even Excel got the memo.

You can let go of your data ferrets, and wizards, and what have you. No, Public Data, I’m ready for the messiness of it. You don’t need to put on a front just for me.

What’s more, we have we new tools like XML, Python, and numerous other formats that allow for the sharing of information easily. If you’re feeling really bold, you can even share it in Tableau’s native format or an API and get the benefit of millions of analysts sharing their insight with you. Why not? Most of these options are free. Just look to some of these places to get an idea of what the future could hold. Or even these places that really got on the wagon. Storage is far less the issue.

Public Data, it’s time we embrace the new world, one with less fear and more openness. It’s time to take it to the next level and provide data that is less pivoted, formatted, and spliced into minute facets; instead, disperse it in a format that tools like Tableau Public can easily connect to and analyze. I love you, Public Data, it’s a right #DataLoveAffair, but there need to be some changes here.

Let’s look at this:

  • You’re beautiful as you are: You don’t need to put on fancy colors, indents, or years at the top. No, dear, I like you as you are and embrace my data more tall than wide. You don’t need to go to such lengths to explain what more rows already know.
  • You’re free to show your truth depth: You don’t need to be superficial with me. I know there’s more to you and if you care to share, then that’s just more for me to analyze. Go ahead. Show me everything. Each topic doesn’t need to be its own sheet—we can create a perfect union before we face the public.
  • You won’t overwhelm me with your history. I love data that has a past, no matter how messy it is! All your years can be together and I will love you all the more. You can even mash them in the same column and I’ll sort it right out. I promise you.
  • You can be null and not need to explain. N.A, ***, and who knows what else—they only create more work for the both of us. We can let this go. Sometimes, you just need to be null, I get it.
  • You can give me information as dimensions, not just a wall of measures. I’ll be able to sift through the details and understand you at a whole new level. Sometimes, when we simplify, we lose something important. I can manage the complexity. In fact, I want it.

You see, Public Data, I want to design a dashboard or an infographic or a story, not just a chart. I want the world to see you, to know you as I have, and to have a conversation, not just pass you by. You’re worth it, Public Data. Let’s make this easier.


This Tableau Analyst

For more tips, tricks, and vizzes by Bridget, check out her Tableau Public page and her blog, TableauFit. You can also connect with her on Twitter @windscogley.