Importing Web Data Into Tableau

Let’s face it, the best data is hard to come by and rarely in a format Tableau can easily consume.  There is so much data at our fingertips, yet so hard to analyze.  At the 2014 Tableau Conference, one of the speakers mentioned an amazing tool that automagically consumes a webpage and spits out a tabular breakdown of the data available using algorithms way above my pay grade.  The tool is called import.io.  Import.io is able to consume data from any webpage and translate it from human form to a highly structured file based format.  The tool makes the task of data cleansing (which normally takes hours within Microsoft Excel) ridiculously simple.  Often times you’re still going to need to do some light data clean up, but for the most part, let import.io do all of the heavy lifting.

I’m hoping this post and video tutorial saves others from having to manually copy and paste lines of text and numbers into excel in order to restructure data when there is a much better alternative!

In this video demo I’ll walk you through how to use import.io to quickly pull a ranked list of data that otherwise would require hours of manual effort to clean up and format. Then I’ll jump right into the data analysis portion using Tableau which gets right down into the weeds to answer the questions I had when browsing a particular website, BeerAdvocate.  Watch how easy it is to download and analyze data from the web and go from “I wonder which…or what….” to “That’s so cool, I had always wanted to know…” in a matter of seconds.

How to display more than 6 columns in Tableau

Before

Notice how Customer Name and Segment merged into one output

After

Much better!

We’ve all been there.  Banging our heads against the wall wondering that the heck is going on with our Tableau report. Why is Tableau merging fields together instead of keeping them separate? All we really want is to output a simple table that reports out on some detail level data.  How hard could this possibly be? Tableau however has other plans.  You see, Tableau is a data visualization tool, not excel 2.0 and they make that very clear to users through limiting certain features. 

Tableau has masterfully hidden the Table Layout section within the Analysis menu item. Please keep in mind that this change must be made on each individual Tableau worksheet as there is currently no way to setting this feature at a global level within Tableau.

The screenshots below will walk you through the process. I’ve also linked a video I put together demoing this process. Watch video.

Select the Advanced Table Layout menu item from the the Analysis drop down
These values will need updating from the default 6 to 16 (max)

Please try to keep table usage to a minimum as using large tables in Tableau will drastically impact your report performance. The reason for the performance hit is due to the large number of text marks that Tableau has to output prior to enabling the end user to interact with the report.

E.g. If you are displaying a shorter table with 500 rows, only a subset will be visible on your screen. You’d need to scroll down like a webpage to view the rest of the content. Each and every row, although not immediately visible, is required to be queried on and viewable, even if you can’t see it. That’s why having a table with thousands of records will absolutely tank your performance. 99% of the time when users are experiencing poor performance it’s because tables are involved. Please try to visualize your data in chart form and keep tables behind the scenes or in reporting tools that specialize in displaying tabular data.