Makeover Monday Week 43: US National Debt


This weeks Makeover Monday tackles National Debt. Let’s start by looking at the original visualisation.

Apparently the US National Debt is one-third of the global total. Showing these two values in a pie chart is a good idea as it quickly shows the proportions involved. However the pie chart chosen does have a strange white think slice between the two colours and a black crescent / shadow effect on its outside edge which add no real value (in fact the white slice added a bit of confusion for me).

The visualisation then goes on to show $19.5 trillion dollars in proportion to several other (equally meaningless) large figures. The figures do add some perspective on just how big that figure is and the use of $100 billion blocks in the unit chart does allow an easy comparison. One slightly critical feature, if we were to pick holes in the visualisation, is that half-way through the view starts showing the shaded blocks to compare to the 19.5 trillion, whereas before it doesn’t.


with shaded blocks


no shaded blocks

Achieving consistency is important in data visualisation as it lets the reader know what to expect and gives them a consistent view each time to aid comparisons. So making a design decision to add shaded blocks across each comparison would perhaps have been a better choice as opposed to switching half way through.

Visualising Small Data

The dataset provided for the weeks makeover has simply two rows, showing the debt for each area (US and Rest of the World).


Clearly this presents a visualisation challenge. Visualising small datasets is hard, as there are limited choices. One can attempt to include secondary datasets to show the numbers in context, as the original author has done but another, simpler choice, might be to show them relative to each other – similar the original’s pie chart. One might even attempt to show how the data corresponds to the population of the US or the world, attempting to bring the figure down to something manageable (in the US the debt is a more comprehensible $61,000 per head).

Before we attempt to visualise something though we need to think about the audience and message we want to provide. Are we simply trying to show the figures without any comment? or do we want to focus on how large they are? or are we commenting on how large the US debt is to the rest of the world and making a social / political comment?

With a dataset so small any editorial comment is difficult though. For example we have no context on the direction of movement of these figures. The US might be quickly bringing it’s debt under control, while the ROW grows, or the opposite might be true. The ROW figure might be dominated by other developed countries, or might be shared equally. How can we comment without further analysis on temporal change or the context of this figure?

If we can’t comment editorially then we are left with simply showing how huge these numbers are. My criticism of the original is that the number it shows in comparison are equally huge, and equally incomprehensible for a lay person. Given this visualisation is published on a website Visual Capitalist perhaps their audience is more familiar with global oil production or the size of companies but for any visualistion published away from the site a more meaningful figure is needed. Personally I think the amount per head is an especially powerful metaphor. In the US $61,000 dollars each would be required to clear the debt, the ROW world would just have to pay a little over $5.

To Visualise or not to Visualise

Now there is an important decision here, how to effectively show those figures in context. However with such small data is there any point in doing so? Everyone can quickly see $5 is much less than $61,000 – we don’t need a bar chart or bubble to show that, and we certainly don’t need a unit chart or anything even more complex. This is the problem with small datasets, any visual comparison is slightly academic given we can quickly mentally interpret the numbers.

One might be tempted to argue that a data visualisation is needed to engage our audience. Perhaps a beautiful and engaging data visual might do a good job of this, however so would the use of non-data images like the the below.


Defining Data Visualisation

Makeover Monday is a weekly social data project, should a visual that includes only text be included?

What if the pile of dollars in the image above had exactly 61,000 dollar bills would that make it any more of a data visualisation than one that contained a random amount? What if, instead, we added as a unit chart with 12,200 units of $5 bills? These accompanying items don’t help us visualise the difference any better than the text. One could argue where the main purpose of a visualisation isn’t to inform or add meaning or context, and is instead used as a way of engaging the user, then it becomes no different to any other image used in this way. Therefore adding any more data related visualisations to the above text wouldn’t make the image any more of a data visualisation than the one above.

Semantic arguments that attempt to define data visualisation are interesting but academic. Ultimately each project that uses data does so because it needs to inform its audience, and it is the success of the transaction from author to audience that deems how successful the project is.

So should we define a data visualisation as more (or less) successful because of its accompanying “window decoration” (or lack thereof)? In my opinion yes. Accompanying visuals and text help provide information to the audience and can help speed up the transfer of information by giving visual and textual clues.

Do charts / visuals that make no attempt (or poor attempts) to inform the audience add any more value to a data visualisation project simply because they use data? In my opinion, no. This isn’t the same same thing as saying they have no value but simply producing a beautiful unit chart, say. with the data for this Makeover Monday project would add no intrinsic extra value in educating the audience and therefore would be no more valuable than any other picture or image.

Is the above image a successful Data Visualisation? Let’s wait and see on that one. I’m intrigued to see what the community makes of a purely text based “visualisation”.

Does it do a better job at informing the audience than the original? Again this is hard to answer but I believe I understand more about the size of the debt when it is visualised in terms of dollars per head. By bringing these numbers down to values I understand I did’t need to add any more visualisation elements in the same way as the original author, therefore you might say mine is more successful because it manages to pass across information in a simpler, more succinct transaction.

UK Netflix Movie Finder

Click on the image below to see my submission for the “Mobile” IronViz contest – it should work on both mobile, tablet and desktop.



I’ll be honest, I didn’t start this Viz until Friday night before the contest ended on Sunday. My wife was out Friday and Saturday evenings and so I knew I had a few hours…however with little time I didn’t want to waste my time producing a visualisation on something trivial. Instead I wanted to produce a visualisation on something useful, an “app”, something I’d use.

For a long time now I’ve wished I could find something that would save me the job of hunting down decent movies on Netflix. I have a Netflix Subscription but sometimes hidden gems can be hard to root out. I have a good track record of finding good movies though it.takes me a long time to hunt through reviews online as I look through Netflix. It’s become a running joke I’ll spend longer picking a movie than actually watching it.

If only there was an app or website that would give me both combined…..

Friday Night is Data Night

So with my idea in mind Friday night I spent trying to get data…after some googling there weren’t many easy options and so I found myself installing Python to try a Python script to scrape Netflix but hours went by without luck (all while watching Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid on Netflix). The lesson: don’t try and learn python in an hour.

Head in hands and running out of ideas I google some more and found – it was purpose built to do what I needed and had all the data I needed in its search (wish I’d found this site ages ago!) but how to get at the data?

Brute force searching seemed the best option so I ran a search for Netflix UK movies and then scrolled down and down and down to populate the dynamic page…then Ctrl+A, Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V gave:


Ouch….I also took the HTML source for use later. Time for sleep….

Saturday Night Feels Alright

Now the previous night had proved a mixed bag, so I turned to my trusty companion Alteryx to solve my data woes:


What does this spaghetti do? Well it takes the pretty horrible format txt file and turns into into rows and columns of proper data. The trick was to assign a row ID to each row and restart at the “Play Trailer” section marking a new movie. Then I simply needed to crosstab and rename the data. It also pulls out the Movie images from the html source uisng Regex and finds their URL. It combines the two and then splits out multiple genres and casts / directors into separate fields (in the end this last step wasn’t needed but I thought I might do, without it the Alteryx module is massively simplified removing the whole last row).

Then it was to Tableau…I decided to design for mobile first and quickly over a couple of hours designed a few initial drafts of pages then, as it was getting late I posted them to my colleagues for comment.

Next morning, while I was getting the kids ready to head out, the comments started coming back:



I love that I have access to such a great and diverse range of opinions and talent from my peers at The Information Lab. As you can see I got loads of useful feedback – if you want to make a visualisation better just share it as much as possible, ideally on a collaboration tool with image commenting so people can highlight their comments with the corresponding piece of the image.

Sunday Night Polish

Tonight, Sunday, was all about acting on the feedback and building the Desktop and Tablet views. I designed a background theme of the visualisation (using a very quick piece of photoshop work with the Netflix logo) which I incorporated into Desktop – the black left panel but I soon realised that there were some limitations with the Device Designer in Tableau in this initial 10.0 version.

Firstly changing the background of Filters and Parameters alters them for ALL devices. Ouch. That meant ones overlaid on black looked odd on mobile when overlaid on white. Normally a quick solution would be to add a Container and colour it black but in device mode you can’t format object…grrr I was getting frustrated due to my lack of knowledge of this new feature and it’s limitations.

It was hard work fitting the phone layout to different sized phones. Lack of real estate means having to compromise on design vs functionality. All aspects of the visualisation, Text, Filters, Logos need justifying in terms of space. I loved the challenge that working on mobile provided and I hope it makes people entering the competition focus on simple (KISS) visualisations.

I ended up working on the smallest device and then checking it resized okay onto larger screens. As you can see below the differences are quite big depending on the phone.

In the end I decided the best approach was to switch my designs to Floating to overcome this limitation…while not ideal it did allow me to work round most of the problems. However images needed some tweaking as they expand / contract using Fit Width / Fit All.

Anyway..I got it done so I’m happy…and before midnight too. All in all I remain pleased with what was just around 12 hours work!










Avoiding the Bubble – 10 ways to broaden your data visualisation horizons on social media

We know all too well that without proper care online communities can easily become bubbles, effectively becoming echo-chambers of opinion that, unchecked, can leave unwary users with a very distorted view of how real world opinion differs from that in their online community.

We seek out social contact within a relatively narrow set of views and ideologies; we are naturally attracted to people who share our views and actively shun those who don’t. This has, and is, playing out in the political world at the moment with many “remain” voter left reeling after the UK voted for Brexit. For me personally this meant I could debate and engage with only one Brexit voter in my network – did this really help me shape my opinion and attitudes? Did I affect anyone elses as a result of my discussions on the subject, or did we simply reinforce our own beliefs? The blunt truth is that I comprehensively failed to either appreciate or engage with any other viewpoint apart from those almost identical to my own. On the political spectrum the two camps were ideologically so far apart that this polarisation of views was reinforced on both sides and arguments that seemed obvious to one side failed to land on the other. This left the Remain vote in disarray as they failed to appreciate their own failings. In the US we are also seeing this play out with the lead of 60 / 70 points, predicted by many for Clinton, failing to materialise as Trump supporters continue to be disengaged by any alternative despite the Republican’s many “gaffes”.

I won’t dwell on it here as this echo-chamber effect has been been discussed by many, a particularly good article by David Byrne is well worth reading.


Echo Chamber by Christophe Vorlet, 2016


Data Visualisation

Within data visualisation, my field of interest, it is easy to see the same issues play out. In the data viz world online communities have typically been built around software / solutions;  Tableau, Qlik, PowerBI, D3, R to name a few; as well as having a more general solution agnostic communities typically flourishing around experts / researchers or special interest such as sports data . Visualisations that might not get a second glance in one community can be lauded as the best thing since sliced bread in others – often praise revolving around the technical difficulties of producing the visualisation as opposed to their validity as a useful / interesting visualisation or analysis. The echo of what is “good” / “bad” can vary wildly between solutions and communities (though typically a hatred of a pie chart unites communities in a common rallying cry).

For new members of the data visualisation community it can be very easy to become distracted by these echoes and feel that certain techniques or visualisations offer more value (based on feedback from the community) than others. Of more concern is that without checks and balances communities can easily alienate those who don’t share similar opinions to those in the “bubble” leading to an increasingly narrow set of viewpoints, all reinforcing each other.


How to avoid the Bubble

With this in mind I wanted to offer some tips to the discerning social media user in the Data Visualisation world, new or old, on how to avoid the bubble effect and ensure your timeline remains diverse.

  1. Remember you are in a bubble

Simply being aware of the fact that our online communities don’t reflect the real world is a start. Remember it. Try and actively switch your viewpoint to that of an outsider at regular intervals in order to try and see your community through a different lens.

  1. Be yourself

Online communities are seen y some as a means to end career and learning-wise but that doesn’t stop you developing an online personality and diversifying your posts. Showing people who you are outside the community will help people relate in a different way to your online self and give them confidence to challenge your views if they want to

  1. Diversify who you follow

Okay so this one is fairly obvious but it needs to be said: don’t just follow people who are likely to agree with you. Go out of your way to look for communities in other areas away from your chosen data visualisation solution – use Twitter lists if you wish to ensure your timeline doesn’t become cluttered.


Twitter recommendations serve to narrow, not broaden, your network.

Follow a wide range of genders and ages, go outside your normal circles, a diverse network of followers will server to provide a range of views to counterbalance yours.

  1. Diversify your followers

So this is harder, but you really need to make sure you have a wide range of different viewpoints in your follower list. That way your posts are more likely to be debated as opposed to be accepted at face value.  How do you do this? Post on different subjects away from your core solution, e.g. if you primarily post about Tableau then try to keep your posts generic, or try building visualisations in a range of different software to ensure you attract followers from different software vendors / solutions. Build a broad base of content but remain focused to ensure you appeal to your broader audience. Don’t be afraid to lose followers in this manner – personally I’d rather one follower who offers a counterpoint to my views than two who don’t.

  1. Diversify your inputs

There’s really no better way to open up your horizons than by drawing inputs from across multiples streams; Reddit, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Books, Blogs, Conferences, Periscopes, Meetups are all ways to try and seek out new contacts. Try to actively look for communities that do things differently, or might even actively disagree with you, and try to shift your perspective to theirs. There is no right or wrong solution and altering your perspective can make the world seem a very different place.

  1. Challenge the status quo

It’s okay to disagree now and then if you do it the right way – there’s a balance between being “that guy” and debating productively with someone who is willing to listen. Be especially careful of providing a dissenting voice if you’re new to a community e.g. a Qlik user in the Tableau community might see his/her views dismissed. However, don’t disagree on everything, it get’s tiresome in communities to see constant disagreement (further reading here from Ben Jones).

  1. Avoid being a fanboy / girl

In the same way then agreeing, retweeting and liking everything adds very little value to a community. Work out why you’re in the community; do you want to help new users, publish your own content, get help to solutions? Develop an online profile / personality around those interests and share content while adding your own comments. Followers will engage much more with cultivated, meaningful content that you have added value to.


  1. Don’t take feedback too much to heart

Positive feedback feels great, it’s sometimes overwhelming to have your visualisation praised by the community and it’s easy for it to go to your head but be aware that that is only likely to be one viewpoint, albeit a shared one. Learn to critique your own visualisations and rely less on likes / retweets / Viz of the Day as a way of judging a projects value.

Similarly just because a project gets negative (or worse no) feedback then that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value. Social Media can be very fickle, things on a populist theme will get much more attention than anything of genuine business value.

  1. Seek out feedback from alternative sources

Seek out alternative feedback from different communities or on different platforms. One of the best ways is to ask for honest feedback from one or two trusted contacts / experts privately where they are more likely to give your work time and energy as opposed to glancing over it, or simply hitting the retweet button. The value of one meaningful critique like this is not to be underestimated, 140 characters is isn’t enough to get any meaningful feedback and so many people won’t bother.

  1. Don’t just take my word for it

Do you agree? Look for other methods of avoiding the bubble online, a lot has been written about the social media bubble. Discuss, comment, argue and debate with me – I’d love to hear from you. I’m happy to be wrong.

What does this mean for me personally?

I’ll be the first to admit I’m well inside the bubble myself. Very few of my contacts and peers in the world of data visualisation come from outside the Tableau world. I rarely use any other solution to build data visualisations and I fail to engage with any media away from Twitter and LinkedIn professionally. I could do a lot more.

Over the next few months I need to ensure I broaden my horizons using the tips above, work with new people and seek out their opinions. I intend to work with new communities and with new solutions to see the world from their point of view….and I’ll be richer for it.


“Fitted” Gannts in Tableau

The Challenge

During Makeover Monday this week (week 22) I came across a problem: I needed to produce a Gantt chart for a huge amount of overlapping dates. Gantt was really the only way for me to go with start and end dates in the data (in the back of my head I’m thinking Mr Cotgrave will be loving this data given his fascination with the Chart of Bigraphy by Priestly) and I was fixated with showing the data in that way (I blame Andy) but everything I tried in Tableau left me frustrated.

Jittering left wide areas of open space and no room for labels, even if I zoomed into one area would render leave lots of the data unexposed.


I knew what I wanted to do…I wanted to neatly stack / fit the bars in a decent arrangement to optimise the space and show as much data as possible at the top of the viz. The original author in the link for the makeover had done this as such:

Now Makeover Monday usually has a self-imposed “rule” that I tend to adhere to, spend an hour or less (if I didn’t stick to this I could spend hours), but here I was after half an hour without any real inspiration except something I knew wasn’t possible in Tableau. It was a challenge and to hell with rules I do like a challenge – especially given the public holiday in the UK meant I had a little time.

The Algoritm

So I turned to Alteryx, but how to stack the bars neatly.

Firstly I needed a clean data set, so I fixed some of the problems in the data with blank “To” dates and negative dates using a few formula and then I summarised the data to just give me a Name, From and To date for their life.

Algorithm-wise I think I wanted to create a bunch of discrete bins, or slots, for the data. Each slot would be filled  as follows:

  1. Grab the earliest born person who hasn’t been assigned a slot
  2. Assign them to a slot
  3. Find the next person born after they die, and assign them to the same slot
  4. Repeat until present day

In theory this would fill up one line of the Gantt. Then I could start again with the remaining people.

An iterative macro would be needed because I would step through data, then perform a loop on the remainder. First though I realised I needed a scaffold dataset, as I needed all the years from the first person (3100BC to present day).

I used the Generate Rows tool to create a row per year, and then joined it to my Name, Birth, Year data to create a module that looked like:




I’d fill the “slot” variable in my iterative process. So next up my iterative macro.

Translating the above algorithm I came up with a series of multi-row formula:


The first multi-row formula would assign the first person in the dataset a counter, which would count down from their age. Once it hit zero it would stay at zero until a new person was born, at which time it would start counting down from their age.

The second multi-row formula would then look for counters that had started to work out who had been “assigned” in this slot and assign them the iteration number for the macro, i.e. first run would see everyone going in slot 1, second in slot 2, etc.

Perfect! Now to run it and attach the results to the original data:


Easy peasy Alteryx-squeezy. That took me 30 mins or so, really not a long time (but then I have been using Alteryx longer than you….practice makes perfect my friend).

The Viz

So now back to Tableau:


Neat, progress! Look at how cool those fitted Gannt bars look.  Now what….

Well I need to label each Gantt with the individuals name but to do that I really have to make my viz wide to give each one enough space….


The labelling above is on a dashboard the maximum 4000 wide…..we need wider! But how? Tableau won’t let me….

Let’s break out the XML (kids don’t try this at home). Opening up the .twb in Notepad and….


I changed the highlighted widths and low and behold back in Tableau – super wide!

Now I can label the points but what do I want to show – those Domain colours look garish….

So I highlighted Gender and….pop. Out came the women from history – nice story I think to myself. I decided not to add a commentary, what the viewer takes from it is up to them (for me I see very few women in comparison to men).

Other decisions

  • I decided to reverse the axis show the latest data first and make the reader scroll right for the past, mainly I did this because the later data is more interesting
  • I decided to zoom in at the top of the viz, generally I expect viewers won’t scroll down to the data below but while I toyed with removing it I decided that leaving it was a slightly better option. The top “slots” I’m showing are arbitrarily chosen but I feel this doesn’t spoil the story.
  • I decided to add a parameter to highlight anything the user chose (Gender or Occupation) – tying it into the title too.
  • I fixed AD / BC ont he axis using a custom format



So I spent a couple of hours in total on this, way more that I planned today but that’s what I love about Makeover Monday – it sets me challenges I’d never have had if I hadn’t been playing with the data. I’ve not seen this done in Tableau before so it was a fun challenge to set myself.

Click on the image below for the final viz







Tableau – Keeping it Simple, Stupid

Tableau – it’s a really simple tool to use. I’ve recently been blogging about ensuring we keep Tableau simple, and also show our failures as much as our successes. My recent Periscope talk was on that subject – catch the replay here– and I also blogged on edge-cases and my feelings about them. I want this blog post to continue that theme and so I’m going to talk about my personal mission to keep my Tableau visualisations simple.

We have an amazing community

The Tableau community is full of experts, it has people pushing the boundaries of the tool and also showing how to create fantastic vizzes that delight and amaze, and it also have brand new people joining every day. Experts help new users and share blogs, tips and techniques to help them get started, they offer critique, and you never see anyone’s viz efforts ridiculed or flamed. We simply couldn’t wish for a better community.

Despite this awesome community many new users I speak to are often put off sharing their work because of the high level of vizzes out there. They worry their work simply isn’t up to scratch because it doesn’t offer the same level of complexity.

So, in time for Valentine’s Day, I’m offering new users a Tableau KISS – Tableau, Keeping it Simple, Stupid.


This “project” will see me keeping my work simple, in an effort to show what’s possible without straying into advanced territory. I’m going to stick to basic chart types and try to only use techniques featured in the Tableau Fundamentals course.

You’ll see tutorials, videos, talks and revizzes over the coming weeks and months; anything on this theme will feature the #TableauKISS hashtag on twitter and I’ll add the logo to vizzes and blogposts.


#TableauKISS isn’t about discouraging others doing complex work and vizzes in Tableau – far from it – I love seeing the fantastic vizzes that the community produces.  I’ve always enjoyed creating my own wacky vizzes, many of which pushed Tableau to the limit, and I know they offered inspiration to other users, new and old. So I beg the community to keep pushing the envelope with Tableau.

This is for me. I simply want to reconnect with why I find Tableau so engaging: because it enables me to do understand data, quickly and simply.

I encourage anyone in the community interested in sharing in this project to use the hashtag and logo if they wish. Let users, new and old, embrace simplicity. Do yourself a favour – give a #TableauKISS!



BBC Football Commentary Data – Webscraping

I wanted to use this post to provide a permanent link to the datasets I provide from the web-scraping I am doing of the BBC Football Commentary provided online. The data for this commentary is sourced from Opta and sources are documented within the dataset.

I am currently scraping all English and Scottish Leagues (including English Conference) and also English League Cup and FA Cup. Please let me know if you would like to see other competitions included (if the data is available).

More details will follow once I have had more time to flesh out, and improve, my methodology, and also to document the datasets. For now this post though will provide the links to two data formats – both of which I aim to update at least weekly if not more often.

Data formats provided: zipped csv format and tableau packaged data source (.tsdx). Both are available in the following location:

Any comments or bugs noted please let me know below. More details to follow.

My Top 10 Blogging Tips

In this, my first blog post of 2015, I want to talk about blogging and offer some tips for those new to blogging in the Tableau or Alteryx community.


Last year I wrote 40 blog posts, spread across this site and The Information Lab blog. I covered a range of subjects, from simple visualisations through to explainers of specific functionality, e.g. Tableau permissions, I also wrote a few opinion / commentary pieces. I’ve also just started a new site to host my more specific “BI and the Business User” blog posts. All this adds up to a lot of words, and I’ve learnt a lot, so here’s some of my top tips for blogging in the Tableau or Alteryx space.

(image by Alex Martinez - click for details / licence)

(image by Alex Martinez – click for details / licence)

Tip #1

Do it for the love of it This is the single most important tip, if you read no further please take this in. If you don’t feel it – don’t post it.

Don’t start blogging for any reason other than because you enjoy it. Blogging because you want to be the next Tableau Zen Master or the next Alteryx ACE, because you want to change careers, or even because you want to impress that hot girl you saw at TCC isn’t going to work in anything but the short term. You’ll soon lose your fizzle, the time between posts will get longer and sooner rather than later you’ll stop. Unless you are very, very single minded then I guarantee this will happen, and you’ll be disappointed with yourself for trying.

Likewise with a given post; don’t post to get views or retweets, or likes, just post what interests you, the rest will come as a result of that.

Blogging shouldn’t be a chore, you’re choosing to spend your spare time doing it after all, if it’s a chore go and do do something else – you owe yourself that.

Tip #2

Don’t Set Targets Targets will be unhelpful when you start blogging, and may cause you to feel undue pressure to post to meet the targets you’ve set. How do you know you will have enough time to post, say once a week, before you’ve tried? Believe me it’s harder than it sounds.

Instead of setting targets then just post when you have time (or when you have made time), and keep a backlog of subjects to ensure you make the most of that time.

Tip #3

Keep a notebook for subjects A virtual or physical notebook can really help record all those ideas you have for blogs. Those tips you come across in the course of a day in your work, or in a conversation with a colleague or twitter friend, need quickly recording so they don’t get lost. Sometimes a series will pop out naturally from this backlog, and you can string together a set of posts, other times you’ll find yourself with a spare 30 minutes and be able to pick a short subject and get a draft done there and then. Unless you record your ideas then those opportunities can go begging.

I currently have about 20 ideas stored away, some will never get written, some I plan to write about next week, others will probably be written by others before I find time. Before I started recording them I’d find I’d sit down to write a blog and wonder what to write about.

Tip #4

Think carefully about where the time will come from I estimate that on average I probably spend a day in total on each of my blogs, some have taken significantly more, others much less but roughly it’s probably a day. From the inception of an idea, to building a viz or module, through tidying and making it public, and then writing the actual text for the blog (not to mention proof-reading and editing) there’s a lot of work. So for me that’s about 40 posts x 8 hours = 320 hours of work over the last year – that’s about 6 hours a week.

I’m fortunate that I also blog for work and so some of those hours can happen in my working day, but more often than not even the “work” blogs are done in my personal time (after all I enjoy it). Therefore you have to find time in your week to fit in those hours – for me that’s on trains or in hotels, or while my wife is out in the evenings. Everyone is different but try and think about where your time will come from; I know some people blog in their lunch hours, others on their daily commute, I imagine others are doing it off the side of their desks at work. Regardless of where you find the time then be sure to acknowledge it needs to be spent, there’s no shortcut.

If that time is coming out of your family time then I’d also recommend you speak to your partner and explain your motivation – if you’re partner isn’t from the community they’re unlikely to understand why you’re spending time away from them to write a blog post.

Tip #5

Get social You’re going to need readers from somewhere. “Build it and they will come” doesn’t work if no-one can find it. So do some signposting. Get a twitter account and start posting links to your own posts, as well as other blogs you read – that way other’s won’t think twice about retweeting your content.. Don’t be afraid to share several posts through the day either, individual tweets can quickly get lost and you need to cater for different timezones. Google+, Linked In and Facebook are also great ways to connect and share your posts.

Tip #6

You don’t need a niche, but it helps For the last year I’ve blogged about anything and everything, whether I have expertise or not I’ve felt I can still offer something by sharing my thoughts. This approach has worked for me, but after 40 posts in the last year I’ve started feeling that a bit more specialism might help me focus, I’ve noticed other bloggers that the same approach too, moving from general to specialist over time.

Having a “specialism” (not necessarily one you’re expert in, more just a specific subject) helps you find your space in the community. Consider your likes and passions, look at what other’s post and look for gaps. Finding that specialism can help you stand out and give your readers a reason to seek you out on specific subject areas.

Tip #7

Craft blog posts around any community themes Your posts will get extra attention if you use current affairs, or post around the specific themes in the community, e.g. if it’s Tableau Politics Month then a Viz and post around politics is clearly going to get more publicity from the Tableau Public team.

Tip #8

Use your page stats All blogging platforms will give you information on your views and most popular posts, so use that information. What worked well, what didn’t. Be critical and analyse the posts – make sure you learn something.

Did you share your post on twitter on a particular day / time? Did you get a retweet from a specific person? Did your subject tie in with a given theme? Is it a particularly useful tip you wrote about? Whatever the stats tell you worked then do more of it! Likewise if something didn’t get many views then use it as a learning experience, or simply ask other bloggers – they’ll be more than happy to offer hints and tips and some friendly critique.


Tip #9

Revel in the rewards If you followed my first tip, and you’re doing it for the love of it, then that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy all those views, retweets and feedback you’ll get. The communities we blog in are some of the greatest around, and all content is welcomed, from beginners to the experienced and you’re sure to get some shares and feedback.

For me this is the lifeblood of the whole experience, those retweets and mentions help justify what I enjoy, and give me motivation to keep writing about the things I enjoy the most.

Tip #10

Enjoy it! Walk to your local coffee shop, grab a wedge of cake; head to the local pub and grab a beer; or head to your office with a glass of wine. Whatever works for you. However I cannot stress enough that blogging shouldn’t be a chore.

Your Tips?

What motivates you to blog? What works for you? Do you have a schedule, or like me do you blog when you find time? I’d love to hear your thoughts.