This year's Tableau Conference, kicks off with its keynote and first day of sessions in New Orleans today. As part of the festivities, Tableau and open source geographic information systems (GIS) player Mapbox, are announcing their Mapbox Geospatial Analytics Extension for Tableau.
The extension allows customers to easily aggregate spatial data into clusters and regular grids or transform the data into voronoi polygons or isobands. Sheets and dashboards in Tableau already look good. Add in some impressive map visualizations and things go from good to great.
This comes on top of last week's announcement from Mapbox and from Microsoft, of the newest rev of the Mapbox custom visual for Power BI. The custom visual allows users of Microsoft's self-service BI platform to create 3D extrusions on shape maps, with adjustable height and pitch, as shown below.
In both BI tools, the data in Mapbox visualizations can be filtered by selecting data in neighboring visuals on the same sheet/page. And if a geographic value is selected during such relative filtering, an auto-zoom feature in the Mapbox visualization will be triggered, so that the selected location comes right into focus.
I got hands-on with the Mapbox custom visual for Power BI myself (the above screenshot came from my own computer). And while there were a few prerequisites -- some of them less than intuitive -- to contend with, the overall ease with which the 3D extrusions can be set up is pretty darn impressive. What's even more impressive is that the custom visual is free.
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The integration between the two tools allows developers to add layers into the same WebGL context that a Mapbox map is rendered in. In other words, Mapbox GL JS v0.50 allows much more sophisticated mashups between Mapbox and other frameworks/libraries. Moreover, Mapbox says the Custom Layers feature works with other WebGL rendering libraries, including three.js.
Not the only game in town
While Mapbox is doing cool stuff with BI vendors and in the developer ecosystem at large, they're not alone. ESRI, with its ArcGIS technology, has been at this for years. ESRI makes a product called ArcGIS Maps for Microsoft Power BI and also integrates with MicroStrategy and with Tableau, among others.
ArcGIS is a commercial software vendor, but Mapbox is not unique in being an open source provider in the GIS space. In that department there's also the open source vendor Boundless (which was founded by ESRI alumni), not to mention the open source QGIS system.
All of this is great for the customer. With all the public data sets, free BI tools and open source GIS and visualization platforms, budget is no longer a barrier to cutting edge visual analytics.