Let the data be the map in Power BI

I was recently experimenting with plotting over 1 Million well surface locations from the TX RRC data dump.

I didn’t like the traditional map; it was too cluttered. I needed a better option that also has to be quick and easy to implement…And I found one:

SandDance

When I tried to display a lot of wells using the basic map visual, I didn’t like the clutter on the map. Yes, you can customize it, tweak it, and make the points smaller, etc. but that is not what I was trying to accomplish. If anything, I wanted my data points to stand out more, not less, all while sticking to the KISS principle and be up and running in a matter of minutes, not hours or days.

Here’s how my initial map looked before I replaced it with a better solution:

Decluttering a basic map takes too much work IMHO, it also has a 3.5k point limit

Since I was looking for a simpler solution, and this was not a GIS application by no means, the SandDance visual was the perfect tool for the job.

In his book “The Visual Display of Quantitative Information“, Edward Tufte talks about the Data-Ink Ratio (DIR) and how to keep your visuals from becoming too cluttered to be useful by insuring a high DIR. What this basically means for the purposes of this scenario is this: I needed get rid of the map, without getting rid of the map entirely.

We still want to see a spatial representation of the data points, as well as a quick way to get actionable information such as “wells that went down today” from data point color or “day over day production variance is too low here” from data point size, etc.

Introducing the SandDance Power BI visual

If your data points have lat/longs or some other kind of coordinate system, you can visualize the data on a scatter plot minus the basemap layer, add coloring and sizing attributes, and much more. For that purpose, the SandDance visual offers a richer set of out-of-the-box features than the built-in Power BI scatter plot visual.

In the examples below, I’m using SandDance to let the wells themselves be the map.

I used the county portion of the API numbers as a color-by property to create a beautiful quilt of Texas wells, and the second visual is colored using well status:

Below I am using a virtual coordinate system that I created by synthesizing a google maps aerial photo of the Alamo 7 Solar Plant in Texas to create digital twins in Power BI for a streaming tutorial. Watch for another blog post on that subject soon.

A new and improved version of the SandDance Power BI visual has been rewritten for 2019, and published to the Power BI app source where it is free to download and use.

If you’re a developer, the entire SandDance code base has also been made open source on GitHub.

A GIF from the SandDance github page

Keep an eye on this space for more articles on SandDance and other great visuals, as wells as tips and tricks to help you create great Power BI visuals.