Time to Talk: Tableau Extensions



So one of the very last announcements of the Tableau conference opening keynote was the reveal of a new API coming soon in the Pipeline, the Tableau extensions API. This is a fantastic new way to extend the functionality of Tableau using javascript.


This may sound a little familiar to those of you who know about Tableaus various API offerings, isn't there already a javascript API? Yes there is, but this has a fundamental difference.


The javascript API allows javascript elements on a webpage to make calls to an embedded dashboard. So the dashboard has to be embedded onto a webpage and the javascript elements placed around it. The extensions are kind of the inverse, these are small web-app like pages which have a little bit of script within them, and instead of the dashboard being embedded in the webpage the web page is embedded in the app, and through the API the script can access the various sheets on the dashboard.


As described in a couple of the subsequent sessions at #data17 there are two classes of activities that this new API will enable on the dashboard. Closing the loop and lighting it up. Closing the loop activities are going to allow you to use the insights you have gained to take actions and make changes, that can then be reflected in the data.


Light it up activities will add new features to illuminate aspects of your data, either through advanced analytics and machine learning, or through something as simple as a custom d3.js viz.


And there's the biggest thing, opening up the dashboard through javascript will allow developers to make use of the huge number of visualisation and data libraries already created for javascript.


The API is by now means complete and extensions are only available in the developer preview at the moment, so it could be many more releases before they become fully available. There are a couple of areas that need to be ready before they go out into the wild, the first is that they need to be fully enabled on server and online, without them the use cases are going to be limited, but this is on the roadmap for implementation and looks like it should be out before release. The other aspect of these extensions that needs to be fully realised before release is security, enterprise users need to have the confidence that they can:

  • Choose if they will allow extensions

  • Manage and audit extensions that are in use


Because extensions use javascript and are potentially going to be looped back into the data editing process this needs to be a high priority for ensuring the utility of extensions for the business.


I would also add a couple of wishes for the API itself, I’d like to be able to access the workbook as well as dashboards within the workbook, and definatly be allowed to manipulate which tab is ‘active’ in the workbook, giving us the power to develop real buttons. It's not the most optimal visual analysis tool but the button paradigm is by now well understood and widely used in the business context.


Another thing i’d like to be able to do through the API is manipulate the pills on shelves, specifically the drill up/drill down on hierarchies, and the date pill formats. (this may already be in the API but I haven't been able to find it yet)


So that's my first take on the new API, it's got a lot of exciting opportunities for changing how we interact with and view data in Tableau and building out Tableau fully into a visual analytics platform that's flexible and extensible. So the future is green, the future is .trex!


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