The addition of extensions to Tableau opens a huge range of possibilities to the way dashboards interact with other applications. From the examples on the public gallery I can see the potential for them however, I believe it is diverging from the core foundations of what Tableau is. To me what makes Tableau stand out from the rest is its ease of use and that while some parts have a huge amount of depth to them, they are still easy enough to follow in the GUI. Even the calculated field has a nice side bar where you can see what each function is doing and its requirements.
They allow Tableau to do a range of things that would not previously been possible or had to be done in a convoluted way. A simple but powerful addition is the Show Me More extension by Infotopics. It adds in graphs that are not native to Tableau such as an interactive sankey diagram. Previously you could get them in, but it would take a lot more effort than simply adding it to the dashboard.Show Me More by Infotopics
Some people want to be able to view their data in excel. The information lab created their own extension, Export All it allows the user to simply download data from a visualisation to an excel spreadsheet with a single button.Export All by The Information Lab
Another great example of the power of the extension system is the filter bookmark. This allows you to set up a bunch of presets to your dashboards filters and tie them to a button. Allowing your user to go to them with a simple click of a button. Great for trying to convey story through your dashboard and stepping them through several different insights on the same dashboard.
Filter Bookmarks by Tableau
My main concern with the extensions is that they are not straightforward like the rest of Tableau. If I want to create my own I must go through several steps just to set up the requirements and you need to know how to develop web applications. On top of this the actual extensions are hidden away and the extension files themselves only contain information about the extension and where it is hosted. Compare this to Alteryx’s macros where I can download anyone look inside to understand how it works and maybe modify it to learn the basics of it.
While I am sure over time many great extensions will be made available, when using them in a professional setting I doubt many companies are going to want to be using someone else’s code hosted on an external site with the developer having no clue what is going on in the code. Another problem with them being closed source is that they can be monetised, even in this early beta version the Show Me More has a premium version which requires a subscription fee to get. Which goes against the rest of Tableau’s community driven content.
Future of Extensions
Extensions have the potential to be great, they could be the next great feature in Tableaus wheelhouse. But they could also be a massive mess of a feature that confuses new people and causes more problems than they are worth if not handled correctly. I hope they improve the extensions accessibility as the beta continues and I look forward to seeing how they progress.