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Jamie Thomson

This is the blog of Jamie Thomson, a data mangler in London working for Dunnhumby

Data Explorer Feedback part 1

Earlier today I posted Data Explorer walkthrough – Parsing a Twitter list in which I explained that I have been using Data Explorer for a few weeks now. In that time I have been compiling some feedback for the Data Explorer product team which I was going to email privately but I see no harm in putting these thoughts into the public domain, hence why I am writing this blog post – a hodge podge of thoughts/suggestions/gripes from the past few weeks of using Data Explorer.

  • I’m very impressed that if I change the name of a resources any references to that resource are updated accordingly. After years of working with the SSIS dev tools I’m automatically wired to expect that not to work.
  • I love the composability of tasks and resources (e.g. Define a custom function as a resource and use it in another resource). That idea of composability and reuse is something that is sadly lacking in SSIS (and the SSIS team know that because I’ve moaned about it often enough Smile ).
  • If the name of the resource is too large for the box then there is no way to see the full name without editing it:


  • It would be nice to be able to reorder the list of resources
  • We *really* need the ability to widen the columns when viewing the results of a task.
  • Data Explorer seems a bit lacking in its abilities to parse HTML & XML right now. For example, I'm surprised that I can't use XPath to extract the contents of an HTML/XML document. In fact, the lack of such features is the most disappointing aspect of Data Explorer thus far and means that the product is still a long way off being a Kapow competitor, remembering that this is still an early beta of course.
  • We need better ways of visualising the output from a mashup (i.e. something that doesn’t require the user to have Excel installed). How about giving SSRS the ability to consume an OData feed – we could then host such a report on SQL Azure Reporting, perhaps even sell that report via the Azure Marketplace.
  • If I make a mashup publicly available I would like to be able to know how many times it is called. I believe that the ability to INSERT data (e.g. into SQL Azure) using Data Explorer will be coming soon (its kind of already there with the Snapshot feature) so I'm wondering if there is a way to "trigger" an insertion when someone consumes one of my exposed resources? I suspect the answer is "not right now" so consider that a feature request. I guess you could crystalise that request as "Provide an eventing model within a mashup so that resources can be triggered when some event (e.g. Someone consumes a resource) occurs."
  • We need a scheduler that enables us to run Snapshots at some pre-defined time.
  • I have a mashup published at The link for the feed is but that doesn’t actually show me any data, it shows me a list of resources that produce the data however in this case there is only one resource ( Would it not make sense to link directly to the feed with data in it if there is only actually one external resource in my mashup? It would save a mouse-click at least.
  • I haven’t yet figured out if its possible to do recursion. Still working on that one.
  • In my Twitter List example the values “jamiet” & “data-explorer” for the list owner and list slug respectively were hardcoded in the mashup; yes, they were parameters to a function but they were still hardcoded. It would have been much better if I were able to give the consumer of the mashup the ability to define/override those values when they consume it. In other words, a mashup needs to be parameterizable.
  • Overall I am very impressed and the excitement that I displayed in my initial post Thoughts on Data Explorer is justified. Data Explorer coalesces nicely with existing interests of mine such as SQL Server, ETL & web-enabled data and I have high hopes that I will be using this extensively for clients in the years to come.
Published Wednesday, December 7, 2011 9:56 PM by jamiet
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Chris Webb said:

I have one, possibly controversial comment: if Data Explorer is going to be part of the self-service BI stack (which is where I assume it belongs) then I think the syntax of its language needs to be consistent with Excel and PowerPivot/DAX. Power users should not be expected to learn yet another language, syntax and list of function names.

December 7, 2011 6:16 PM

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