January 21, 2014

Spreading the gospel, one data viz nerd at a time

Fact: If I didn’t start my blog, I wouldn’t be working at Facebook. 

When Facebook was looking for people to build out their new Tableau team, naturally they started scouring the web to find people that could make an impact.  The only reason Facebook knew I existed was because I write my blog.  That brings me back to the beginning…how did I get started and why?

Back in September 3, 2007, in no less than one hour, I:

  1. Ran a Google search for dashboard software
  2. Downloaded and installed Tableau 3 (people new to Tableau have no idea how good they have it now)
  3. Watched the first two intro training videos
  4. Created my first dashboard

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That one hour changed my life.  I became seriously OCD about Tableau and data visualization. 

Almost another two years passed.  I had been reading tons about data visualization, but there were very few blogs about data viz or Tableau and Tableau Public didn’t exist.  I had been practicing a lot, I loved writing and I needed a way to document my work.  I wasn’t even considering that other people might actually read it; the blog was like a diary after all. 

There was a void, so I created vizwiz.blogspot.com.  I chose to host it on blogger for no other reason than I was already using it for my personal blog and it’s super simple.

I started the blog as a place for me to take existing charts and graphs I found on the internet and transform them into something more meaningful.  My first blog post on August 17, 2009 was a remake of our friend the pie chart.

People were starting to read my blog more (particularly after the Huffington Post mentioned my post about birthdays).  I had a small following on my blog, but I wanted more people to know that I had content to share that they might be interested in.  After all, one of the best things about the Tableau community is the willingness of people to share their knowledge. 

Facebook and Twitter are embedded in our every day lives and are the two best ways to spread a message, so I adjusted my creation flow for blog posts to optimize my time and the blog’s reach.

1. Publish a blog post

2. Use the Facebook Share Button in Chrome to create a post on the VizWiz Facebook page

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3. I’m not a very active Twitter user (go figure), so I created a recipe on IFTTT.com that automatically posts content I share on my Facebook page to Twitter.  This includes posts from my own blog as well as content I find on the internet.  Basically, I share on Facebook and I get Twitter for free (one less step for me).  Hopefully they’ll add support for Pinterest soon too.

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Naturally, once your blog gains some followers you’ll begin getting feedback.  It’s critical that you engage with your audience.

  • Respond to blog comments (I would recommend you turn on word verification and moderation to help avoid spam)
  • Use an RSS reader (I use feedly) and Facebook to follow people and pages your like.  If you enjoy their content, share it.
  • Help others if you’re willing and able.  If you post an interesting technique, people might have questions.  Hop on a screen sharing session, Skype or Google Hangout with them.  Trust me, you’ll learn more from helping other people than you can ever learn on your own.

I’m always looking for great data viz and Tableau content to read.  I keep a log of sites I follow here.  It’s a bit out of date, so if you don’t see your site on there, leave me a comment and I’ll check it out.

In the meantime, feel free to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Tableau Public.