How I Use #Tableau As A Search Engine



I’ve been building a series of Alteryx and Tableau techniques over the past couple of years with one vision in mind. This vision is simple but hasn’t been so easy to achieve. This article explains how I have now accomplished my goal.


3danim8’s blog represents written, graphical, and video forms of my memory. This blog has captured my creativity and innovation in ways that I couldn’t have imagined when I began the process of writing the blog about 4 years ago.

The first 2.5 years of writing articles was a scientific experiment intended to teach me how to be the best blogger than I can be. I don’t like to waste time, so I don’t usually like to write trivial articles. I want to create articles that have impact over time.

I am now one article away from finishing the quantitative evaluation of that experiment to share all the lessons I learned while conducting that experiment. I believe that many of the lessons I learned during the experiment have already made this a better blog than it was in the beginning.

Attempting to Create Impactful Work

The problem with trying to create impactful work is that people can become jaded by the quantity of output that can be created when someone is experiencing Big Magic. People who may like what you do will no longer read what you write because we are all busy and we don’t have time to read everything. These two findings are simply a fact of life. I don’t take anything personal in this regard when my best work hardly gets read directly after publication because I am not doing this work for popularity reasons.

I do this work to help other people learn how to do interesting and important things in analytics. I try to focus on problem solving techniques, not just showing how Tableau can be used to display data and how Alteryx can process data. For this reason, people have to grow in capabilities to comprehend the value of some of the techniques I’m explaining. I just happen to have a 30 year head start on many people that are getting started in their careers.

Over time, I just keep working, creating and testing ideas to fulfill my visions because I know that people will find the information I create when the time is right for them to discover it. Those are the times when this work becomes impactful. I know that some of the things I’m doing are ahead of their time and the recognition of these ideas will happen later. Writing a blog like this is similar to planting flower bulbs in the fall and getting to enjoy them months later in the spring.

Information Overload

Because of this volume of work keeps growing, I cannot remember everything that I have written and I need better access to my own work. There are days when I do a general search about a technical topic, start reading the first article that is returned, only to realize that I wrote the article!  This is how I know that I cannot remember everything that I have written.

Additionally, there are times when I have a really hard time trying to pin-point the article that contains the topic I am needing to read about. Just like I hate wasting time writing worthless articles, I even hate it more when I have to take too much time to find something I have already written but I can’t remember where it is! These are a couple of additional reasons why I created the technique shown in this article.

Blog Shortcomings

Blogs suck at helping us find information. It’s just that simple. There are very few standards, too much variability in platforms and themes, and blog writers don’t make it easy for us to find their work. At best in some blogs, you have title words and/or word clouds that are built around key words, tags, and category labels that help you find information.

Even if you had access to all of this information on every blog article someone wrote, you will still only be seeing a portion of the content they produced. There are many reasons  why blogs are inefficient in returning important stored information, but suffice it to say that blogs hold a lot more valuable information than we are able to easily find and access.

Since one of the reasons I’m writing this blog is  to be able to retrieve my knowledge when I need it, I needed a better way to retrieve my work. This need caused me to develop a vision a couple of years ago of a great search engine powered by Tableau. I bet the Tableau founders probably never thought of Tableau as being used as an incredibly powerful search engine!

In fact, in Hans Rosling’s 2006 TED talk, he discusses the need for such a search engine to connect the publically available databases to the tools that can create effective data visualizations. In some respects, I see an analogy between the work described in this article and the need he identified 11 years ago. The technique I’ve explained in this article connects my concepts to my previously published work in a very comprehensive way.

To make the Tableau Search Engine vision happen, I created ideas and techniques. I tested concepts, I wrote Alteryx workflows, and I kicked Tableau in the ass a few times. What resulted is a repeatable framework for creating a very simple dashboard that empowers me to find anything I want in seconds. In Tableau parlance, the level of detail I’m searching at is now at the word level. It is not possible to go finer than that.

What I created in a few minutes by using the techniques I have established over the past couple of years, will transform my work. Although I have only used this dashboard a few times, it has me shaking in my boots because this concept is much more powerful and universally applicable than just connecting me to my work.

My Vision

My vision from 2 years ago was to be able to see a list of every article I have ever written that contains any word I am interested in finding. I wanted to be able to search every article to find people, techniques, methods, ideas, concepts, etc. I can now do that as shown in Figure 1, in which I searched 3danim8’s blog for the word “temperature.” From this list of ranked articles, with a single click I can read any of the articles.


Figure 1 – The search term “temperature” returned the list of all 19 articles I have written that contain that term.

Why is this technique so important to me? There are literally dozens of reasons. One primary reason is that I have interwoven articles that span time for a variety of topics. Some of these serial topics include: blogging, global warming, Tableau techniques, Alteryx techniques, photographic techniques, mathematics, science, changing jobs, and achieving data comprehension. All of these topics can now be bound together by key words which provide the linking between the articles. I have never had this capability before.

The best way for me to explain the other reasons why this is awesome is to show you by using the very early version of the Tableau dashboard. In the video below, I show how I can use this tool to find people, techniques, ideas, etc.  I also discuss my even greater ambition of creating Tableaupedia Part 2, now that I have the proper building blocks and techniques in place. In this video, I also show you how this dashboard works.

Building Blocks

Here are a few of the articles that contain detailed instructions on the techniques that have allowed me to complete this work. This list may not be totally comprehensive because some of these were built upon other articles. If there is something you need to know about these techniques, just send me a note.

  1. How #Alteryx And #Tableau Can Produce Word Clouds
  2. A Dynamic Image and Web Page Viewer Using Tableau
  3. The 3danim8 BEAP1 – Visualizing Geographical Blog Expansion

Final Thoughts

This search dashboard will be refined and expanded, and will replace what I currently use to search my blog. This new tool will be available on my Tableau public site in the near future. Thanks for reading!

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