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Why we're building Observable

Helping everyone make sense of the world with data, together

  • Melody Meckfessel

Today is an exciting day for Observable as we share the platform, our community, and vision with the world. It has been so inspiring to build a platform with you. We want to share a bit more about why we started Observable.

In 2004, Mike and I met working on systems to help make search better. These systems evaluated multiple data sources — from live traffic experiments to evaluations from users. The tools helped engineers and data scientists analyze the results in order to make better decisions on how to improve search. There was some visualization involved...😁

We know how challenging it is to work with data. Data is overwhelming for all of us. Making sense of it is the biggest issue facing our connected world. In order to meet that challenge, Observable has been designed to empower people to code, collaborate, and share insights with the world.

Lots of work lies ahead in building Observable and we are guided by a few core beliefs.

  1. Data helps us think. We use data to ask questions, identify patterns, find new insights and make better decisions. Data is the foundation of most things in our connected world. Working with data is an essential skill today regardless of whether you’re a student, scientist, developer, entrepreneur or hobbyist.

  2. Visualization helps us “see” and “understand” information in new ways. Visualization taps into the human visual system (“our eyes”). It improves our confidence - we can “see” trends and discover surprises in data. And we can more easily and intuitively communicate to any audience. It’s not surprising that we rely on charts, graphs and maps to make sense of the world.

  3. We are stronger together than we are alone. Creativity and innovation happens by working together. The explosive growth of software in the last few decades mirrors the success of open source and the internet: the ability for anyone, anywhere, to share and learn from each other. To make the power of data available to all, we must help each other, share techniques, tools, and insights with the world. We must enable everyone to collaborate, not just the experts or the coders.

  4. Feedback helps us move faster. Would you rather see your changes live, or wait for code to compile? Would you rather collaborate in real-time, or suggest changes and wait a few days? Observable supports interaction and live code at the language level (extending JavaScript), so you can more easily engage, ask questions, and test assumptions. And by making code more literate, we hope to make analysis more accessible. Immediate feedback helps us learn and move to the next job we want to get done.

  5. Everything is transparent. By interacting with code, data, and visualizations together, work is transparent. You can see and learn directly from what is visible in the notebook. Transparency minimizes risk by connecting people directly to the data and logic. Everyone is more informed about the data.

  6. Working together is fun. No matter our skill level, we can be inspired by others. There are thousands of reusable visualizations created by Observable community members. We build upon each other’s work. We learn from each other and we share what we know, just as others did for us. There is a network effect that we all benefit from. The most exciting and creative innovation around visualization is happening in the community.

    Together, these beliefs motivate us to create Observable: if we can make data analysis more accessible, approachable, and inclusive— if we can improve how people learn from each other and share insights — it’s like making the world just a little bit informed. And as optimists (yes, even in 2020), we believe this will make the world just a little bit better.

    We want to say thank you to all Observable users. We watched as you created amazing things with data. We are inspired and often say “Wow, Look at what someone created!” You are breaking down the barriers of what’s possible with visualization. You established new techniques and then shared them with the world. We witnessed you help new users time and time again.

    To folks interested in data and how visualization helps, we welcome you. It might not be easy at first. It wasn’t for us. We are here to help and so are the thousands of community creators. Join us!

    With gratitude and excitement for all we will create together, Melody and Mike

Interested in learning more about collaborating with data?