Build Online Visualization for Free with Tableau Public

Tableau Software, popular for making data more accessible, mainly in the business sector, just opened up with Tableau Public. The application is similar in spirit to other online data applications like Many Eyes and Swivel. It lets you share data and visualizations online. However, Tableau Public doesn’t have a central portal or a place to browse data. Rather it’s focused on letting you explore data and stitch modules together on your desktop and then embed your findings on a website or blog.

For example, below is an interactive hosted on Tableau Public and made available online. Those who use Tableau Desktop should be familiar with the layout. You’ve got a map up top linked to the the time series on the bottom. Filters on the right let you focus on specific parts of the data.

How it Works

Like I said, Tableau Public works a little differently than you’re used to. You do everything on your own computer first and when you’re ready to share, the data and visualization is hosted on Tableau’s servers. Copy and paste some javascript to your site and there you go. Easy stuff.


The main trouble with this, and you might have noticed this already, is that the interaction is kind of slow, because everything renders on the server and then is sent back to your browser. So it takes a second or two for every click to process (for me, at least).

For comparison, if we embedded something from Many Eyes, the applet and data are loaded locally, so the visualization interaction is much faster.

Speed can be fixed though. Loading times aside, this is a big shift for Tableau, and it’ll be fun to see where it goes from here. It’s especially good news for the non-programmer crowd that’s interested in data. With the price tag of free, there’s nothing to lose and a lot to play with.

Your Thoughts

What do you think? Try for yourself and post your thoughts in the comments below. I’d be especially interested in hearing what regular Tableau users think about the product. How does it compare?

Disclosure: Tableau Software is a FlowingData sponsor.


  • The only thing about ManyEyes is that it’s only Java – so if you’re browser doesn’t have Java installed (which only 60-70% of browsers do), you can’t see anything from ManyEyes. I find that annoying. Don’t know what Tableau does but at least I can see it and play with it in your post.

  • Tableau looks to be pure Javascript, which is a huge win. With HTML5, this approach will only get better with time.

  • I have created a Tableau Public viz with 98,000 rows of data (almost the limit of what you’re allowed. Considering that, it works admirably. It will be interesting to see what people do with it.

    • Alex, Your ER Visits viz is awesome! Inspirational for some client work we are doing. Thanks.

      Peace and All Good!
      Michael W Cristiani
      Market Intelligence Group, LLC

  • I spoke with Tableau on the subject, and the embeds are indeed pure Javascript/etc renders rather than the Java that ManyEyes employs. As Nathan notes, that sacrifices performance hit, particularly with larger datasets, but as @Tom Marie and @Mark James Adams note, the wider availability makes it a win in my book.

  • Re performance, the sacrifice that Stephen mentions is actually particularly for *small* datasets, where sending all the data to the client doesn’t take long. When your data gets beyond toy sizes, rendering server-side is a whole lot quicker than sending a 100K-row data set to the client (and rendering there). So I personally like that trade-off even beyond the web-standards/accessibility win.

    Point taken on speed, though! We’ve got several things to work on before we’re constrained purely by round-trip time.

    • @James,

      So, encourage people to throw larger datasets at TP, then? Sounds good to me!

      Peace and All Good!
      Michael W Cristiani
      Market Intelligence Group, LLC

    • @James – one thing i forgot to ask. will there be a way to make things privately publishable or are you guys focusing mainly on publishing for public consumption?

  • I just got round to writing up my thoughts on Tableau Public – .

    I’m a commercial user of the Pro version, and certainly think it can only bring good things to those that can’t afford it – but want a versatile tool,

  • Having played with it a bit, the interface definitely takes a while to get used to. It is certainly “easy” in the sense of being able to try lots of things without breaking a sweat, but difficult in knowing what the result will be when, say, dragging a variable from rows to columns.

    I’m sure I’ll get used to it. The killer feature is the webpage embed.

    My one request would be loess for trend lines.

  • Andy Cotgreave February 17, 2010 at 4:13 am

    The speed thing can be an issue, but this is a massive step forward for Tableau, and in my opinion puts them in a great space. Tableau seems to me to be the most accessible application for people without a technical background – it’s strength is in the way you can easily connect to and explore data. That should encourage lots of people to get involved.

  • I have used tableau public for about 2 months now on my work blog,

    Speed has been improving as they have changed servers (and it will continue to improve). While it’s noticeable, it’s acceptable – there are loading times when the user makes changes to the display, but the information you get from mouseovers is instantaneous.

    Jeff Clark of made a post a month ago about the 20 visualizations most discussed on twitter.
    All have been coded (or designed) from scratch. But several could have been done in a couple of hours with tableau public.

    The bottom line is that with a few days of training, someone can now create something that previously required world-class talent (and resident coders + designers).

  • I could think of worse ways to introduce students to exploratory data analysis. Statistics isn’t just the residue at the end that winds up in your report, but the entire process of looking at and thinking about the relationships in your data (the interaction in Tableau reminds you that data are alive.) It would also hammer home the idea of plotting first before you run any tests.

    • @Mark,

      Thanks for putting this thought out there. Stephen Few, among many others, constantly reminds of the imperative to explore visually. One thing for sure — this helps with data quality issues before getting down and dirty (with cleaner data, hopefully). I think students adopt your whole post as a mantra, and remember it in the real world, where lots of competing pressures mitigate against rigorous process. What do you think?

      Peace and All Good!
      Michael W Cristiani
      Market Intelligence Group, LLC

  • Does anyone know… is there any API for this ? I think it would make a great tools for business software programming.

  • Tableau Public is advertised as “free” but does it not have to be hosted on Tableau’s web server? (How else does it generate embed code?). If it must be hosted on Tableau’s server, how much might that cost?

    • @murrayhill7

      Not sure what you mean, but I will try to clarify. Tableau Public seems to have two components:

      1. there is a FREE desktop application that visualization authors and data analysts can install in minutes. It has all the capabilities of the Tableau Desktop Personal commercial version, except that workbooks must be saved to the Tableau Public server, which is an instance of Tableau’s own Tableau Server product. Also, authors are limited to data sources with 100K records. Once a workbook is published (saved) to the Tableau Public Server, it is available to anyone with an internet connection, using either the URL or embed code the publishing process provides.

      2. The Tableau Public web site is a repository of all work published to the Tableau Public Server. Anyone can sign-up for a FREE account there, which allows them to publish work to the Server using any Tableau desktop application in the 5.1x or future releases stream. So commercial desktop users or Tableau Public Desktop users can publish to the Tableau Public Server for FREE. Essentially, signing up for a Tableau Public account.

      If you are asking what it cost Tableau Software to develop this whole scenario, sounds like it was/is a significant investment. Perhaps that investment is indirectly supported by sales of the commercial product and their outside funding? If you talk to anyone at Tableau Software, they will engage you at length on this subject, with their typical missionary zeal. I happen to share it, if you had not noticed.

      If this helps, great. If your question is elsewise, please share.

      Peace and All Good!
      Michael W Cristiani
      Market Intelligence Group, LLC

      • Michael, thanks for the clarification…you answered my question. I thought there might be a hosting fee to publish data on Tableau’s server, but apparently there is not, which is great news for my organization.

  • If you want to download a software and host yourself, look at This is the downloadable version of by InetSoft. Many interesting examples as well.