Results of a #Tableau Public Publishing Experiment

Introduction

Over the past few years of publishing in Tableau Public, I’ve noticed something that I thought would be a good idea to test and document. The concept I wanted to tested was this:

If you publish a Tableau Public workbook with more than 1 dashboard or worksheet, will people see and be able to navigate to the other dashboards/worksheets that you have created?

My experience (and hypothesis) suggests that most people will never see any content beyond the landing page that you set them on, whether it be the first dashboard/worksheet, or somewhere in the middle of your published sheets. This will occur even if you tell them about the other sheets and have shown them how to navigate!


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Method

As shown in Figure 1, I almost always publish more than 1 dashboard and/or worksheet in my Tableau Public workbooks.  I always publish these using the “Show Sheets as Tabs” setting, as shown in Figure 2. These tabs appear along the top of the page as as series of clickable worksheet tabs that allow the users to navigate from one visualization to another, as shown in Figure 3.  This is the method that Tableau has given us to publish more than one dashboard and/or worksheet.

TP__fig1_workbooks

Figure 1 – Tableau workbooks and the number of pages (dashboards/worksheets) in each.

TP_Fig2_Sheets_as_tabs

Figure 2 – The Show Sheets as Tabs setting is always used.

TP_Fig3_Plantpower dashboard

Figure 3 – The five navigation worksheet tabs are shown.

To test whether this is an effective method of displaying and navigating between information, I recently created some new Tableau Public workbooks that had multiple dashboards. I wrote blog posts about these dashboards, with explicit instructions on how to navigate from one dashboard/worksheet to another.  An example of this can be found in the middle of this blog post, in which I explicitly identify two dashboards by showing the tabs for each and explaining what they represent.  After publishing this post, I checked the usage stats on my Tableau Public page the following day and confirmed what I thought would happen.

Figure 4 shows the page hits for the Tableau Public workbook consisting simply of two dashboards.  Page 1 – the landing page – was hit 569 times in less than 24 hours and Page 2 – the second dashboard – was hit exactly 0 times.  Page 1 and Page 2 were both documented in the blog post. They each were perfectly valid dashboards that each offered different insights in to the data.  How is it that with over 500 people seeing the same thing for the first time, no one could see how to get to the second dashboard?  The reason for this mis-behavior is that this method of using tabs on top of the page is not intuitive (we are used to tabs at the bottom of pages, not at the top!) . This method simply doesn’t work very well for people not accustomed to using Tableau.  I also suspect that this technique is not visual enough, which is ironic coming from a company with such visual emphasis! There is a much better way to do this and I hope that someone at Tableau will read this blog to see how this can be done.  I describe the improved method in the next section.

TP_1_Dashboards_Stats

Figure 4 – The Tableau Public page hits for the two dashboard example with data collected in under 24 hours.

OK.  That is one example. Maybe it is a fluke.  Maybe there was something strange about that example.  Well, it is not a fluke.  This happens to me all the time.  I could show other examples but here are some stats instead from these recent examples: Example 1: Page 1 hits = 225 (landing page), Pages 2-5 = 0;  Example 2: Page 1 hits = 136, Pages 2-5 =0.  After changing the landing page in Example 2 to Page 2, the number of hits on Page 2 jumped to 51, no other pages changed.  I have seen enough of this behavior over the past few years to know that it is a real phenomenon.

I have determined over time that If I want the consumers of my information to see a point that I am trying to make, I have to land them onto the dashboard and/or worksheet that contains that information that I want to convey at the time.  When publishing real-time basketball score reports, for example, I move the landing page around so that people see different views during the course of the tournament.  One side-effect of this technique, however, is that it makes people mad because the dashboard changes when they do not want it to.  When the users log back on to my dashboard to see the game scores, they might land on a page showing team standings! The problem is that they don’t know how to get back over to the game scores because they don’t see (or don’t know how to use) those page navigation tabs!  Eventually people learn how to navigate, but it seems to take one person showing another person how to do it before navigation between pages becomes more common in a workbook.  This type of training can happen when hundreds of people are attending a basketball tournament, but it can’t happen when people are sitting home alone looking at blogs and websites.

Proposed Solution

Tableau needs to develop what I call the “Landing Page” for each Tableau Public (and Server, I suppose) workbook that we create.  The Landing Page would graphically show all the dashboards/worksheets in the workbook, with each view having a caption describing its content.   A conceptual example of this is shown in Figure 5, in which five views are shown from one Tableau Public Workbook. The landing page would allow the user to simply click-on the view they wanted to see and be launched into the content.  The landing page should be configurable, by dragging and dropping the views in any order the publisher wants them to be in. The upper left corner view, presumably would be the highest-priority information. Hidden worksheets should not be shown on the Landing Page.

Landing_Page

Figure 5 – A Conceptual Tableau Landing Page.

Since I don’t have a Tableau Landing Page to work with, and so much of the information I am producing is never getting viewed, I decided to create my own type of Tableau landing page.  I have placed this Landing Page in my blog.  I currently have four Tableau Public workbooks that I maintain over time so that people can learn from the information.  I have created an image-based launching technique that I think will help people more readily find the information I have created for them. Figure 6 shows the two-dashboard example mentioned earlier in the post.  I’ll be tracking the usage stats over time to see if this technique works better than simply sending the user onto the default landing page in Tableau Public.  An update to this blog will be published in the future…

TP_fig_6_db

Figure 6 – Image-based dashboard launching from a blog post.

 

Update 11/1/13

A week or two has passed since I first wrote this. A fair amount of discussion has occurred on Twitter around the topic of a landing page and/or other forms of navigation links.  Ramon Martinez has officially formulated a concept for navigation improvement and submitted this concept to the Tableau Ideas page.  This concept seems to be favorable for many users.  There has been some discussions related to this post that suggest that the Tableau page counts only work for the landing page.  I can’t say for certain how the page counts are accumulated or how accurate they are, but I have multiple examples where page counts are accrued on non-landing pages.  Figure 7 shows an example of this that I reference in this post regarding basketball tournaments and how navigation seems to be a learned activity rather than an intuitive one.  I hope one day that improvements are made in our ability to inform users of our dashboards so that we don’t have to give lengthy explanations on how to view and interact with the data in our dashboards.

KV_2013

Figure 7 – Page hits from a Tableau Public workbook showing that page views are accumulated for non-landing pages.

3 thoughts on “Results of a #Tableau Public Publishing Experiment

  1. Neat experiment. This is something I’ve thought about frequently.

    However, I haven’t found Tableau Public’s page counts reliable for anything but the landing page. It’s been a while since I’ve played with this, and when I did the behavior wasn’t consistent. Instead, I embed Google Analytics on the pages, which also gives a sense for time on page, and path through a workbook.

    But I agree that a subset of readers will click on anything, particularly if it takes them to a new view. Fewer still will do this if you make them read instructions, especially if you make them read the instructions while hovering over a “?” icon, where they also have to remember what they read because the instructions disappear when they move the mouse or wait too long. 🙂

    I’m looking forward to the new Tableau Story Points feature where we get navigation buttons. Another option is to display smaller lists (top 10, bottom 10, sparklines, …) as a one-page summary suitable for 80% and a “Click for details” button.

    Does anyone have experience with tools like mouseflow.com that generates a heat map of mouse movements on a page?

    Jim

  2. Hi Ken,

    Great blog post and recommendations.

    I was evaluating in this multi-dashboard dataviz http://public.tableausoftware.com/views/DiabetesandTBintheAmericas2008TPteasers/IncidenceofTB?:embed=y#1 if the introduction of filmstrip improve the user’s ability to navigate to other dashboards.

    From Friday Oct 26 to today Oct 28, the viz has 546 hits in the first dashboard, 0 second, 2 in the third and 2 in the fourth.

    It seems that Tableau Public only counts hits on landing page, in my case the first dashboards, as I’ve been navigating from one dashboard to other using either Tabs and Filmstrip more than 10 times.

    So my conclusion is that Tableau Public is counting hits only in the first dashboard or the dashboard defined in the URL (see the parameter # in the url)

    Best regards
    Ramon

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