Salem Viz Trials and a Trio of Tableau Legends has the #VOTW

Adam Mico
Adam Mico
Jan 11 · 14 min read

A Tableau-centric weekly blog about the viz making process, #datafam member interviews, Viz of the Week & entertainment for introverts (consisting of a music morsel & a binge bite).

This week we discuss the controversy and tactful handling of people that may have improperly used a data visualization created by another as their own and I chat with Lorna Eden, Samuel Parsons and Simon Beaumont as they completed an amazing collaboration (disclaimer below). A special note, a fun interview with me was published yesterday with Grafiti!

I was going to cover my 2019 in review, but in some form or another I shared everything of note to death. A community matter has recently pushed me to really reflect and reconsider some things … and that is our community’s response to alleged plagiarism. How can we keep our keep our dignity intact while protecting our data visualizations?

As an aspie, it’s really difficult for me to muse from another person’s perspective… I have to focus quite a bit to do that and articulate, so hopefully if I can understand the following bit, others can too. (1)

Picture this scenario

John Doe wants to learn something cool and get noticed. He’s seeking an IT degree, but doesn’t desire to code exclusively, so he sees data vizzes on r/dataisbeautiful and researches data visualization tools. He notices Tableau is free for him at his university, so he wants to try it out. He does a Google Search and finds Tableau Public and sees a wonderful viz that’s not super complex (published by another person) and is keen to investigate it and share his ‘own’ version. He takes the viz and recreates it in a separate workbook which is nearly identical to the original design. He’s excited to share his feat, so he goes on Twitter and sees there’s a Tableau community — with the exuberance of a puppy dog, he tweets it. His viz isn’t attributed and he didn’t complete the ‘inspired by’ and doesn’t think of that because he made it on his own.

A day passes and he gets one or two likes (poor guy used the wrong hashtags)— he’s a little bummed out and logs off for the day, but it’s not the end of the world. He wakes up and sees 20+ notifications — he thinks, ‘wow, maybe people really dug my viz’, but then logs on and sees the original author clapping at him and calling him a thief. A bunch of others chime in and he clicks on their profiles and sees folks with thousands of followers and fancy Tableau titles in their bios — John is a little freaked out. He looks at the words and the atrocities alleged and is overwhelmed by the poisonous outrage. He doesn’t respond; he just wants to escape.

Jane Doe (no relation) has been lurking in the community a couple days after attending her 1st TUG, she posted her 1st viz on Tableau Public, read a couple blogs and knew of some Zen Masters and Tableau Ambassadors that we’re mentioned at the TUG. She starts following some of them on Twitter and to her shock she sees them throwing stones at John (who still has not responded). To her disgust, she’s witnessing a live character execution of just some dude who did something questionable (and based on the evidence, not a hardened criminal). She left disgusted and her impression of the community is pure cancer.

The truth is, John did what nearly everyone does with Workout Wednesday and Jane was pushed out before she even became part of our community.

This is a fictional story and there are far more damning representations of other Johns, but without understanding his intent, we just don’t know…


When I think the worst regarding what spider senses tell me may be plagiarism, I think of the…

  • failure to play by well-reasoned rules. (2)
  • person who took it and may try to use it as a piece to get an undeserved job or recognition (but I think it’s very careless to leap to assume that’s the intent of the person is to use public visualizations to monetize or otherwise tangibly profit directly from it).
  • lowering morale and desire of those that spend time creating their viz-ions only to see their work claimed or partially ‘claimed’ by someone else that spent little to no effort to post (when it could have taken the creator weeks to figure out how to put together).
  • seeing a friend rightly upset because they’ve been burned by someone’s very questionable viz appropriation.

With the Tableau community set up, it’s a little trickier…

  • Blogs or projects are made encouraging the use of techniques and even promote downloading the original viz without making it clear that attributions need to be made.
  • Many authors allow their vizzes to be downloaded — if I were young and grew up in the internet age where everything is sort of free to use to some extent (like .gifs, pictures, music, videos and whatnot), I would not automatically think this is something I need to cite — in fact, before I was part of the community, I didn’t bother citing data sources.
  • A lot of us learn by replicating actions to wrap their head around the tool and technique challenges Tableau presents.
  • Often users cannot save on their desktop and must publish on Tableau Public (hiding the viz is not the default option).
  • If savvy people are using the trial version of Tableau and want to access to the workbook after their trial ends… it’s just like favoriting a workbook — because they cannot download without desktop.
  • Tableau Public doesn’t make it abundantly clear on the application when citations should be made (a default informational bit may help, but they are looking at additional ways to protect authors). (3)

I’m somewhere in between ‘the take everything’ and ‘citation stickler’ positions. My public vizzes aren’t usually labored and do not resemble anything made for work purposes. These are hobby vizzes meant to be fun exercises of trying new things or playing with dope data and often using techniques discovered by one of our community members. For me, someone grabbing my viz would be an annoyance and not get to much of a reaction — but when I see someone else’s viz appear to get lifted, it bothers me a bit more. I’m not everyone and many people take their public visualizations much more seriously and it’s hard not to appreciate their perspective.

Even if John Doe downloaded the workbook, only changed attribution to him from the author and modified a bit of transparency on a chart (as seen last week In the community) without any of the ‘re-creation’ elements, it is probably nothing more than attention-seeking behavior or just having fun with a viz. (4)

Seeing people getting called out in public is cringe-inducing, doesn’t look good on anyone and also can be a violation of Tableau’s Terms of Service (g. ‘Stalk or otherwise harass another…’) — it casts a crappy cloud on our community. Thinking back to when I started with the datafam (in August) and if I saw the toxicity in my 1st couple days of people piling on and even if it didn’t involve me, I would have bolted (like Jane). I wonder how many people lurking or just began with the community saw these discussions and thought this place isn’t for them.

I’d like to think we are better than that. Plagiarism or suspected viz theft is serious, but airing public grievances comes off as petty and destructive. We can never grow, preach inclusivity and also call out people in a public setting (even if they didn’t respond to a direct message).

I’ve been guilty of participating in the Salem Viz Trials myself. Sometimes, I have chimed in to check out and confirm what is accused to support the ‘creator’. I thought it was a good way to help the author — it really isn’t. If they go down that rabbit hole, it makes them look bad for being a primary participant in that display — nobody gets bolstered and it just shreds everyone with blistering Twitter mention shrapnel.


How can you help us overcome this dark cloud of negativity as a community when it comes to alleged viz theft?

1. Ignore the perceived theft and move on with your day.

2. If you cannot ignore it + the person is on social media and can receive your message… use a direct message, but try to have a ‘learning + teaching moment’ conversation with them and make an effort to not put them on the defensive — if you had no prior communication with them, an accusatory tone will unlikely get the response you are looking to receive — if you send one message, a follow-up message will probably not get a response. Note: if they promote the viz via a Tweet, it would probably be a non-starter for the accused if you call them out in response to their Tweet.

3. If they do not respond or you cannot privately send them a message, really think hard about what you look to gain by pursuing it further. If you know someone who is connected with them, you can ask that person to help you connect with the person on your behalf, but adding more people complicates the situation.

4. If you cannot connect with the person and thinking about calling them out publicly, please remember how you would respond to seeing that out in the open during your 1st couple days in the community and how that would have impacted your ability to engage with the community. Also remember that doing so may negatively impact how others view you.

5. If you are convinced it’s theft and feel you have no other resource and it’s really eating at you, report it to Tableau Public confidentially via email . It’s a big part of their job to help protect content creators and they can take stronger and more substantial/non-abusive actions than anyone of us can make without their assistance. (5)

Notes: Often, this ‘theft’ can be shared to you by a friend. If they share publicly on social media, you can kindly ask them to delete the post, so you can deal with it privately (if you want to deal with it at all). I hate to point this out, but when you decide to let your workbook be downloadable, you are not actively preventing theft… it’s very much like leaving your wallet on the table at a restaurant, someone did take it, but it was there for the taking.

If you run a project, it’s your call on how you want to approach these situations. If you believe that it helps protect your participants and project goals by having open discussions on this matter in public, that’s your prerogative/call. I’m not here to judge and that’s not the intent of this post — I just think we have alternatives to public shaming (especially gang shaming) and pursuing any of those alternatives will allow us to grow. We also need to think about the bigger picture — will calling out people as a leader encourage others in the project to pile on the person and how is that a good look for Tableau as an entity?

With growth, there will always be bad eggs that slip through, but maybe some of those eggs are confused eggs that need a chance to incubate to become future Tableau Ambassadors and Zen Masters without requiring a good cracking.


Viz of the Week

Disclaimer: Simon, Lorna and Samuel were in no way affiliated with the above section or had any inkling this would be covered in this post or any other post in #DataVizThoughts.

Credit: Lorna Eden, Simon Beaumont and Samuel Parsons — Rematch — Joshua vs Ruiz — Clash of the Dunes

Adam Mico (AM): When did you decide to collaborate and did you plan on this topic before the rematch took place?

Lorna Eden, Samuel Parsons and Simon Beaumont (Triumphant Trio): Lorna watched the fight on the night it happened, which is where the spark started. She wanted to be able to compare the stats between the first match and the second match. She began to collect all the data that was readily available, and just happened to mention it to Simon, as an “oh I have some sports data if you want it”, and from there the rest is history. Simon asked Lorna if she fancied a collab viz, they started to bounce a few ideas around. Until Lorna decided it would be good for MORE stats — so they determined what elements to collect.

AM: Collaborating with two people can be complex, how difficult was it to collaborate with 3 & what was your collaboration process?

Triumphant Trio: Lorna was the group’s resident boxing fan, so she volunteered to pull together the data set required and happily rewatched the fight to record additional data. Simon was initially assigned to pull together the visualisation and early on we grabbed Sam to help with design. Once Lorna had completed the initial data gathering items, Simon and Sam took over to develop the viz, insight and design. The process was actually surprisingly fluid. Simon and Sam would bounce ideas off of each other via Whatapps, providing screenshots of different concepts. Once certain concepts were agreed to, Lorna was used as the voice of reason (to help maintain we didn’t get too wild with our ideas).

The thing that stands out in terms of collaboration was how much better our ideas became when we had three of us providing input into the process… it really did feel like our combined ideas far outweighed our individual visions.

AM: There are so many fun bits to the viz, but the damage via bruising by round using polygons was such a playful approach and reminded me of video games. What inspired that display and what were the complexities involved?

Triumphant Trio: The polygons piece was the reason we collected the rest of the fight data. We said “wouldn’t it be cool if…” which sparked more and more ideas!

Simon and Sam had a call, where Simon floated the polygon bruises idea to Sam when first bringing Sam into the collaboration, Sam thought it was a cool idea and very doable. Within 6 hours of receiving the data, Sam suggested the best way to visualise the flow of the rounds was using the Violin Plots and it all just blossomed from there.

To create the bruising, we had to make sure we found two images of the boxers we were happy with — ideally in similar poses, with the majority of their bodies on show — so we could map the bruises on the correct areas. Sam then took this on and printed off the images and drew over the images using tracing paper a series of simple shapes, which would easily be mapped in Tableau. Once the shapes were complete, Sam found the x-y coordinates of each corner of every shape and then pulled this into an Excel data set ready to bring to Tableau. To help the depth of the bruises, we used two shapes per strike position on the boxer, one slightly larger than the other. When applying colour to the bruises along with opacity the smaller of the two shapes would layer over the larger and become slightly more saturated in the colour — this added depth to the bruising. This piece along with adding a colour scale relevant to the most strikes on any boxer in any one position, meant we were able to apply bruising for the whole fight + also layer on round after round.

AM: The movement heatmap was something I do not recall seeing in this context and really is insightful to see what the boxers’ gameplans were and became. Who’s idea was it to do this and were there any surprises based on the mapping?

Triumphant Trio: This funnily enough was a simultaneous idea between Sam and Simon! Sam initially wanted to add movement of the boxers into the viz, and explored small multiples with tracking movements with lines. This didn’t work particularly well, because there was so much movement going on in each round. So both Simon and Sam send the same Heatmap idea after that. In order to map the movement Sam had to rewatch the fight and record every 5 seconds the position of each Boxer at that moment in time! So watching the fight like this meant it became quickly apparent the two different gameplans of the boxers that aligned to the pre-match talk of how Joshua lost weight in order to maximise his agility around the ring. The heatmaps when complete backed that story up well. We were really pleased how they turned out (along with layering them over boxing ring images).

AM: There are a lot of elements/charting to the viz. Was there a lot of back and forth regarding the design elements or was it easy to set into motion once you mapped it out? If so, what were the hurdles involved?

Triumphant Trio: This was one of the big surprises for us, we haven’t collaborated on a viz before between us or with anyone else, so we weren’t exactly sure how this was going to work. Yet, we can honestly say that this was a very smooth process. There wasn’t any real disagreements on what should be included. We would fire ideas at each other and if the other came back with valid reason against & then we moved on. There was a lot of trust in each other’s abilities within visualisation (no “I know best” mentality).

Keeping the pace of the project was pretty easy. We would always email a copy of the workbook to the other, once we had completed some changes…the other could pick to see if they needed to add their bits. If someone was busy one evening, that was fine, because normally the other would pick it up and push it forward! Another element that was great to be a apart of, was if one of use would produce one element of the viz but something wasn’t quite right, then the other person normally had a solution up their sleeve to either correct it or could easily create a workaround solution. That process really was 50:50 (or 33.33 : 33.33 : 33.33). Once the visuals were pretty much set out, we would ping an image over to Lorna to make sure she was happy — if things from a boxing analysis perspective made sense, she would also feed in changes to the visuals. (6)

Music Morsel

Mixing a little Jim Morrison, a lot of Them (a garage band from the ’60s) and a ton of proto-punk energy with 100% authenticity, ‘Gloria’ is a progressive journey that begins with a bare poem and ends with a cathartic purge.

Binge Bite

I never watched Flint Town before, but I was very intrigued. This docuseries covered significant human drama and shared commentary aligned with the ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘Blue Lives Matter’ movement perspectives. It doesn’t crack my Top-125 documentaries of all time because it lacks resolution or real cohesion, but it’s a challenging and provocative watch.

Footnotes

1. I need to provide props to Candra McCrae (ItsCandraM), Chris Love (@ChrisLuv) and Alex (@databiscuits) for challenging the toxicity the Salem Viz Trials brings and also need to thank Candra for providing me notes on the draft, which helped me shape the piece.

2. Asperger’s makes me appreciate rules. Rules are something I can use as a compass. Although rules and logic aren’t mutually exclusive, it provides a tangible benchmark. When there are rules, I generally stick to them and it usually helps me stay out of trouble.

3. In my experience, Tableau Public and Community employees have been very responsive when challenged to protect and author or someone’s work.

4. The group artistry of viz-making has increased exponentially as a group in recent months — this can be VERY intimidating for anyone starting out — especially if you’re a newbie and want to get noticed a little. It’s not acceptable, but we can use that example to teach the person what our community is about and allow them (with our help, not our venom) to reach that level organically with hard work and time.

5. Here is Tableau’s informational page on reporting content

6. I would love to see this done as a series using classic boxing matches with fighters applying very different styles like ‘Hagler vs Leonard’, ‘Ali vs. Frazier I, II & III’ and many more!

Adam Mico

Written by

Adam Mico

Geeked out on data vizzes, music + pop culture. Views are very much my own. #DataVizThoughts

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