Getting Started with Tableau Public

12 min read

In this article by Ashley Ohmann and Matthew Floyd, the authors of Creating Data Stories with tableau Public.

Making sense of data is a valued service in today’s world. It may be a cliché, but it’s true that we are drowning in data and yet, we are thirsting for knowledge. The ability to make sense of data and the skill of using data to tell a compelling story is becoming one of the most valued capabilities in almost every field—business, journalism, retail, manufacturing, medicine, and public service. Tableau Public (for more information, visit, which is Tableau ‘s free Cloud-based data visualization client, is a powerfully transformative tool that you can use to create rich, interactive, and compelling data stories. It’s a great platform if you wish to explore data through visualization. It enables your consumers to ask and answer questions that are interesting to them.

This article is written for people who are new to Tableau Public and would like to learn how to create rich, interactive data visualizations from publicly available data sources that they can easily share with others. Once you publish visualizations and data to Tableau Public, they are accessible to everyone, and they can be viewed and downloaded. A typical Tableau Public data visualization contains public data sets such as sports, politics, public works, crime, census, socioeconomic metrics, and social media sentiment data (you also can create and use your own data). Many of these data sets either are readily available on the Internet, or can accessed via a public records request or search (if they are harder to find, they can be scraped from the Internet). You can now control who can download your visualizations and data sets, which is a feature that was previously available only to the paid subscribers. Tableau Public has a current maximum data set size of 10 million rows and/or 10 GB of data.

(For more resources related to this topic, see here.)

In this article, we will walk through an introduction to Tableau, which includes the following topics:

  • A discussion on how you can use Tableau Public to tell your data story
  • Examples of organizations that use Tableau Public
  • Downloading and installing the Tableau Public software
  • Logging in to Tableau Public
  • Creating your very own Tableau Public profile
  • Discovering the Tableau Public features and resources
  • Taking a look at the author profiles and galleries on the Tableau website to browse other authors’ data visualizations (this is a great way to learn and gather ideas on how to best present our data)

An Tableau Public overview

Tableau Public allows everyone to tell their data story and create compelling and interactive data visualizations that encourage discovery and learning. Tableau Public is sold at a great price—free! It allows you as a data storyteller to create and publish data visualizations without learning how to code or having special knowledge of web publishing. In fact, you can publish data sets of up to 10 million rows or 10 GB to Tableau Public in a single workbook. Tableau Public is a data discovery tool. It should not be confused with enterprise-grade business intelligence tools, such as Tableau Desktop and Tableau Server, QlikView, and Cognos Insight. Those tools integrate with corporate networks and security protocol as well as server-based data warehouses. Data visualization software is not a new thing. Businesses have used software to generate dashboards and reports for decades. The twist comes with data democracy tools, such as Tableau Public. Journalists and bloggers who would like to augment their reporting of static text and graphics can use these data discovery tools, such as Tableau Public, to create riveting, rich data visualizations, which may comprise one or more charts, graphs, tables, and other objects that may be controlled by the readers to allow for discovery.

The people who are active members of the Tableau Public community have a few primary traits in common, they are curious, generous with their knowledge and time, and enjoy conversations that relate data to the world around us. Tableau Public maintains a list of blogs of data visualization experts using Tableau software.

In the following screenshot, Tableau Zen Masters, Anya A’hearn of Databrick and Allan Walker, used data on San Francisco bike sharing to show the financial benefits of the Bay Area Bike Share, a city-sponsored 30-minute bike sharing program, as well as a map of both the proposed expansion of the program and how far a person can actually ride a bike in half an hour. This dashboard is featured in the Tableau Public gallery because it relates data to users clearly and concisely. It presents a great public interest story (commuting more efficiently in a notoriously congested city) and then grabs the viewer’s attention with maps of current and future offerings. The second dashboard within the analysis is significant as well. The authors described the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) tools that they used to create their innovative maps as well as the methodology that went into the final product so that the users who are new to the tool can learn how to create a similar functionality for their own purposes:

Creating Data Stories with Tableau Public

Image republished under the terms of fair use, creators: Anya A’hearn and Allan Walker. Source:

As humans, we relate our experiences to each other in stories, and data points are an important component of stories. They quantify phenomena and, when combined with human actions and emotions, can make them more memorable. When authors create public interest story elements with Tableau Public, readers can interact with the analyses, which creates a highly personal experience and translates into increased participation and decreased abandonment. It’s not difficult to embed the Tableau Public visualizations into websites and blogs. It is as easy as copying and pasting JavaScript that Tableau Public renders for you automatically.

Using Tableau Public increases accessibility to stories, too. You can view data stories on mobile devices with a web browser and then share it with friends on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook using Tableau Public’s sharing functionality. Stories can be told with the help of text as well as popular and tried-and-true visualization types such as maps, bar charts, lists, heat maps, line charts, and scatterplots. Maps are particularly easier to build in Tableau Public than most other data visualization offerings because Tableau has integrated geocoding (down to the city and postal code) directly into the application. Tableau Public has a built-in date hierarchy that makes it easy for users to drill through time dimensions just by clicking on a button. One of Tableau Software’s taglines, Data to the People, is a reflection not only of the ability to distribute analysis sets to thousands of people in one go, but also of the enhanced abilities of nontechnical users to explore their own data easily and derive relevant insights for their own community without having to learn a slew of technical skills.

Telling your story with Tableau Public

Tableau was originally developed in the Stanford University Computer Science department, where a research project sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense was launched to study how people can analyze data rapidly. This project merged two branches of computer science, understanding data relationships and computer graphics. This mash-up was discovered to be the best way for people to understand and sometimes digest complex data relationships rapidly and, in effect, to help readers consume data. This project eventually moved from the Stanford campus to the corporate world, and Tableau Software was born. The Tableau usage and adoption has since skyrocketed at the time of writing this book. Tableau is the fastest growing software company in the world and now, Tableau competes directly with the older software manufacturers for data visualization and discovery—Microsoft, IBM, SAS, Qlik, and Tibco, to name a few. Most of these are compared to each other by Gartner in its annual Magic Quadrant. For more information, visit

Tableau Software’s flagship program, Tableau Desktop, is commercial software used by many organizations and corporations throughout the world. Tableau Public is the free version of Tableau’s offering. It is typically used with nonconfidential data either from the public domain or that which we collected ourselves. This free public offering of Tableau Public is truly unique in the business intelligence and data discovery industry. There is no other software like it—powerful, free, and open to data story authors.

There are a few terms in this article that might be new to you.

You, as an author, will load data into a workbook, which will be saved by you in the Tableau Public cloud.

A visualization is a single graph. It is typically on a worksheet.

One or more visualizations are on a dashboard, which is where your users will interact with your data.

One of the wonderful features about Tableau Public is that you can load data and visualize it on your own. Traditionally, this has been an activity that was undertaken with the help of programmers at work. With Tableau Public and newer blogging platforms, nonprogrammers can develop data visualization, publish it to the Tableau Public website, and then embed the data visualization on their own website. The basic steps that are required to create a Tableau Public visualization are as follows:

  1. Gather your data sources, usually in a spreadsheet or a .csv file.
  2. Prepare and format your data to make it usable in Tableau Public.
  3. Connect to the data and start building the data visualizations (charts, graphs, and many other objects).
  4. Save and publish your data visualization to the Tableau Public website.
  5. Embed your data visualization in your web page by using the code that Tableau Public provides.

Tableau Public is used by some of the leading news organizations across the world, including The New York Times, The Guardian (UK), National Geographic (US), the Washington Post (US), the Boston Globe (US), La Informacion (Spain), and Época (Brazil). Now, we will discuss installing Tableau Public. Then, we will take a look at how we can find some of these visualizations out there in the wild so that we can learn from others and create our own original visualizations.

Installing Tableau Public

Let’s look at the steps required for the installation of Tableau Public:

  1. To download Tableau Public, visit the Tableau Software website at
  2. Enter your e-mail address and click on the Download the App button located at the center of the screen, as shown in following screenshot:

    The downloaded version of Tableau Public is free, and it is not a limited release or demo version. It is a fully functional version of Tableau Public.

    Creating Data Stories with Tableau Public

  3. Once the download begins, a Thank You screen gives you an option of retrying the download if it does not begin automatically or starts downloading a different version. The version of Tableau Public that gets downloaded automatically is the 64-bit version for Windows. Users of Macs should download the appropriate version for their computers, and users with 32-bit Windows machines should download the 32-bit version.

    Check your Windows computer system type (32- or 64-bit) by navigating to Start then Computer and right-clicking on the Computer option. Select Properties, and view the System properties. 64-bit systems will be noted as such. 32-bit systems will either state that they are 32-bit ones, or not have any indication of being a 32- or 64-bit system.

  4. While the Tableau Public executable file downloads, you can scroll the Thank You page to the lower section to learn more about the new features of Tableau Public 9.0. The speed with which Tableau Public downloads depends on the download speed of your network, and the 109 MB file usually takes a few minutes to download.
  5. The TableauPublicDesktop-xbit.msi (where x=32 or 64, depending on which version you selected) is downloaded. Navigate to the .msi file in Windows Explorer or in the browser window and click on Open. Then, click on Run in the Open File – Security Warning dialog box that appears in the following screenshot. The Windows installer starts the Tableau installation process:

    Creating Data Stories with Tableau Public

  6. Once you have opted to Run the application, the next screen prompts you to view the License Agreement and accept its terms:

    Creating Data Stories with Tableau Public

  7. If you wish to read the terms of the license agreement, click on the View License Agreement… button.

    You can customize the installation if you’d like. Options include the directory in which the files are installed as well as the creation of a desktop icon and a Start Menu shortcut (for Windows machines). If you do not customize the installation, Tableau Public will be installed in the default directory on your computer, and the desktop icon and Start Menu shortcut will be created.

  8. Select the checkbox that indicates I have read and accept the terms of this License Agreement, and click on Install.
  9. If a User Account Control dialog box appears with the Do you want to allow the following program to install software on this computer? prompt, click on Yes:

    Creating Data Stories with Tableau Public

  10. Tableau Public will be installed on your computer, with the status bar indicating the progress:

    Creating Data Stories with Tableau Public

  11. When Tableau Public has been installed successfully, the home screen opens.

Exploring Tableau Public

The Tableau Public home screen has several features that allow you to do following operations:

  • Connect to data
  • Open your workbooks
  • Discover the features of Tableau Public

    Creating Data Stories with Tableau Public

Tableau encourages new users to watch the video on this first welcome page. To do so, click on the button named Watch the Getting Started Video. You can start building your first Tableau Public workbook any time.

Connecting to data

You can connect to the following four different data source types in Tableau Public by clicking on the appropriate format name:

  • Microsoft Excel files
  • Text files with a variety of delimiters
  • Microsoft Access files
  • Odata files


In this article, we learned how Tableau Public is commonly used. We also learned how to download and install Tableau Public, explore Tableau Public’s features and learn about the Tableau Desktop tool, and discover other authors’ data visualizations using the Tableau Galleries and Recommended Authors and Profile Finder function on the Tableau website.

Resources for Article:

Further resources on this subject:


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