Being Data Driven Data Technology

Blitz Analyzing with Microsoft SandDance

Written by Alon Brody|March 25, 2016

Microsoft Research just released SandDance, a free web-based data visualization tool.

The first thing that struck me was that SandDance is a really weird name for a data visualization tool. It’s a standout in the landscape of Power BIs, Sisenses and Metabases; A name for a shamanistic dream walk not a data analysis and visualization tool. The second you open the website you immediately get it. Each row/object is a grain of sand and when you move between the different charts and aggregations they dances. The name is visually a perfect pick and also a neat analogy to searching for insights in data can be akin to searching for a single grain of sand on a beach.

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The good, the bad and the ugly

SandDance is one of the easiest tools I’ve ever tested. The starting point is a simple count of several bins. From that point you can exclude, isolate, change bins, change chart type and much more. All that with just clicks and no typing or coding. Functionality wise, you can either count rows or sum one of the fields. While simplistic, much of the time this will be enough for initial investigations. Changing between these options is simple and might unveil some hidden treasures that you didn’t think about investigating.

If you’re looking to start analyzing data and understand what’s going on SandDance is a great tool. You can integrate it into your presentations and trust me, the crowd will be wowed. Creating engaging visualization is no small part of successfully conveying your message and can require significant coding skills to pull off. So this is a big plus.

Overall, I would say that this is a great tool for analysts, data scientists, CMOs, CEOs, practically everyone. On the other hand, It’s quite simple and won’t replace the heavy duty data tools.

  • No multiple axises.
  • No complex query capability.
  • No direct database connectivity. You can only upload files (CSV/JSON/tab delimited text) from your computer or a website. If it could connect to my database for sure I would use it in everything I do, especially in the discovery stage.
  • Super slow on “large” data sets. More than 100k rows is really slow.

SandDance is an awesome tool, one that really puts an emphasis and a kick into interactively exploring data. However, the lack of advanced functionality limits it to beginner data users. First, the lack of advance queries means I would be able to use SandDance for maybe 15% of my analyses. Second, the lack of support for large data sets makes it by definition not big data oriented. Third, no database sync support means that a lot of continuous work just to get data into the tool. That said, if all three of these points are addressed, SandDance is an easy yes for me.

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