Observable Launches Free Tier of Data Viz Collaboration Tool

SubhamAugust 30, 2022
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If you have an itch to collaborate with others in an interactive data visualization and analysis environment, then you now have a way to do it, thanks to Observable’s launch of a Free Teams tier today.

Anybody can now create a free team on Observable’s data visualization platform and begin collaborating in real time with others. This will lower the barrier to data collaboration and jumpstart the creativity when people come together, says Observable co-founder and CEO Melody Meckfessel.

“Our mission is to enable and empower people to collaborate,” Meckfessel says. “We want people to do that without any restriction and Free Teams makes that possible.”

Up to this point, Observable’s mid-tier Teams accounts have been mostly paid. For about $144 per year, Teams gave users the ability to collaborate in the Observable environment, which is based in part on the open source D3.js library created by Observable co-founder, Mike Bostock. For a bit more money, the Enterprise version provided more security and support.

Observable also offers Plot, which is a free and open source version of its data visualization tool, but Plot doesn’t support group collaboration. It’s the group collaboration and the ability to instantly share data visualizations and try out new ideas that makes Observable so powerful, Meckfessel says.

“Essentially anyone in the platform  can open up a browser, with the click of a button create a Free Team, invite as many community team member as they want,” Meckfessel tells Datanami. “All of their work is going to be live and public so collaborators can see updates in real time, which makes it easier, faster to work together.”

The decision to unleash Free Teams was made after listening to the Observable community over the past few years, the CEO says. While the company’s ambassadors have made strides in showcasing the potential of interactive visualizations, the hoops that would-be users had to jump through to be able to participate in the live visualization sessions posed too much of a barrier.

(Image courtesy Observable)

“That ability to quickly share ideas and be creative and share techniques with each other is kind of the magic that’s made Observable grow over the years,” Meckfessel says. “We’re fairly confident in saying we have a thriving community with one of the largest platforms of data visualization out on the Web. I am very excited about what the community is going to do when they don’t have restrictions how they can collaborate around data, and what they can build together.”

When the NBA Finals were taking place earlier this summer, Observable employees and ambassadors published a series of notebooks that allowed users to play around with basketball data in Observable’s environment.

“What if during the playoffs, the community was contributing to those live? Adding different data points, adding different visualizations, really riffing and contributing the other?” Meckfessel says. “That hasn’t been possible to date.”

Meckfessel says she’s excited to see how the community reacts to Free Teams. She expects Observable ambassadors to lead the way in setting up teams to showcase certain data sets, but it’s open to anyone. The company offers a selection of open data products that users can import into their Free Teams accounts, or they can bring their own data.

All of the Free Teams activity will occur on the Observable platform, and all of the activity will be open. Anybody can drop in and check out what is going on in the open Free Teams sessions, Meckfessel says. They will also be able to make comments and suggestions. However, only people who have been invited to the group will have the ability to work with the data in real time and make changes to the visualizations.

In addition to open data sets, Free Teams users will be able to access nearly 700,000 custom notebooks, templates, charts, graphs, and educational resources that Observable has made available.

Meckfessel is confident that while Free Teams will help to boost awareness and excitement of data visualization, the new tier isn’t necessarily the best place for somebody to start learning about the environment. If you’re entirely new to this style of data visualizations and Observable, Plot, or D3, you would probably be better served by engaging in some of the free training material that the company makes available, especially through Plot.

There is a depth to the Observable offering that takes a little bit of exploration to fully grasp, Meckfessel says.

“It took time to kind of get what’s possible because the environment is very expressive,” she says. “The notebook allows you to bring data in, to connect with data, to analyze it through features like the data table or interact with that data directly through SQL. You can work in JavaScript. You can work in Markdown. You have easy access to Observable Plot, where you can create a chart in minutes. And if you need the full power of D3 or Vega Lite, you can do that too. But it does take some time to kind of wrap your head around, what does it take to work with data in this way?”

For more information on Free Teams, check out the company’s website at observablehq.com.

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