Introducing the Exploration Canvas (Beta)

The Exploration Canvas is still undergoing active development. Changes to its interface will occur and new features will also be added over time. This article will be updated as changes are made. For more details on the Beta Program, check out this article.

The Exploration Canvas is a brand new platform surface for data exploration, data shaping, and derived view creation. It arrives as a beta experience on select Data & Insights domains in June 2021.

The Exploration Canvas is inspired by the current Grid View, and is built to mirror and go beyond the capabilities of that surface. Specifically, the Exploration Canvas can:

  • Empower users to gain more meaningful insights from data, regardless of their technical skill level, by making advanced data shaping approachable in a new visual interface.

  • Reduce time spent on daily platform workflows by streamlining the steps from data exploration to view publication.

  • Ensure a consistent experience for our power users who prefer written queries, by providing a SoQL Query Editor that works directly alongside the primary data table and visual data shaping interface.

  • Support lightweight, read-only data exploration, making tabular data simpler to share and use.

Accessing the Exploration Canvas

During the beta, you can enter the Exploration Canvas through a banner that appears on all compatible assets. This banner will appear on the asset’s Primer page, in the Grid View, or in the Grid View’s SoQL Query Editor:

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  • Clicking “x” to collapse this banner will hide the banner on all assets for the remainder of your session.

  • Not all assets are eligible for use in the Exploration Canvas yet. The banner will only appear when an asset is compatible with this new surface.

Overview of the Exploration Canvas

The Exploration Canvas houses the tools users need to explore data, shape it, and create derived views.

The primary components of the Exploration Canvas are the data table, the Visual Query Editor, and the SoQL Query Editor. Here’s a base dataset loaded in the Exploration Canvas:

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The rows and columns of data shown on the top portion of the page make up the data table. This data table can be scrolled (up and down, left and right), or paginated through, depending on the size of the dataset.

Clicking the kebab button in a column’s header will expand a menu with quick action options, and the column’s description:

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On the bottom of the page are six tabs which contain the Exploration Canvas' data shaping tools. Here you will find both a point-and-click visual data shaping interface (Visual Query Editor), and a compiler for written query statements using the Socrata Query Language (SoQL Query Editor).

It’s easy to adjust the amount of space these tabs take up on the page. If you’d like to see more of the data table at once, or expand your view of the tabs, just click and drag to resize the section at the bottom of the page:

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Visual Query Editor

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The first four tabs - Filters, Group, Column Manager, and Join - house a point-and-click visual data shaping interface. Altogether they are referred to as the Visual Query Editor (VQE).

Anything you do in the VQE automatically updates the SoQL query in the SoQL Query Editor. This makes it easy to move between the two if you choose.

Filter Tab

This tab allows you to filter the data in your data table. To get started, select a column to filter on:

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Then select the operator:

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Finally, enter the value(s):

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If needed, continue adding filters (using AND or OR):

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Once you’re ready to apply your filters, click the “Apply” button on the bottom right:

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The data table will update to show the results of your applied filter(s).

Group Tab

This tab allows you to group on dataset columns, as well as create aggregate columns. To get started, select a column to group:

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To create an aggregate column, select the column to aggregate, and then select the calculation you want to use. Confirm the API fieldname for this new column (a default name will automatically appear here based on the column name and calculation type selected):

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Column Manager Tab

This tab is where you can manage the columns in the data table.

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  • Click and drag the icons under “Order” to customize the order columns appear in in the data table.

  • Use the checkboxes under “Include” to choose which columns to include in the data table.

  • Use the options under “Sort” to apply sorts to columns.

  • When sorting multiple columns, use the values under “Sort Order” to set the appropriate sort order.

If you have grouped any columns, the Column Manager will show only the columns available according to to the group(s) you have configured. Here’s an example:

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Join Tab

This tab includes a visual interface for connecting the current asset with another asset on your domain.

Begin by searching for the asset you want to join to:

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Once the asset you want is selected, select the type of join you want to execute (Outer, Inner, Left, Right):

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Then configure your join criteria. In this screenshot, the join criteria is to join records where the value in the “Point” column from the current dataset matches the value in the “Point” column in the Fire Locations dataset:

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SoQL Query Editor

The “SoQL Editor” tab contains the SoQL Query Editor, and SoQL documentation is in the “SoQL Documentation” tab below. This SoQL compiler is similar to the SoQL Query Editor currently available in the Grid View.

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To use the SoQL Query Editor, make whatever manual edits you like to the query text in the compiler. When you are ready to apply your changes, click the “Run” button above the compiler.

If there are errors in your query as you write it, an error message will show above the compiler, and the “Run” button will be disabled until the query is free of errors:

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In the Exploration Canvas, it is possible to move between the SoQL Query Editor and the Visual Query Editor (VQE) at almost any time. Exceptions occur when characteristics of the written SoQL query cannot be represented visually in the VQE. This triggers a “SoQL-Only Mode,” which is described in more detail below.

Docking & Undocking

The "Undock" and "Redock" feature allows you to pop the query editor tab out into another window and allows you to move the window to another part of your screen or to another screen all together allowing you to see more of the query in the window as well as a larger data table.

To undock the editor, go to the SoQL Query tab in the Exploration canvas and select the "Undock" option:

Dock-Redock.png

 

SoQL-Only Mode

The functions and operations available in the Socrata Query Language are very extensive. It is not possible to support all of them in a visual interface without that interface becoming overwhelming or difficult to use. For this reason, the Exploration Canvas uses a “SoQL-Only Mode” that accommodates complex SoQL queries by temporarily disabling Visual Query Editor (VQE) tabs. In SoQL-Only Mode, the SoQL Query Editor must be used.

SoQL-Only Mode will never be activated by using the options in the VQE. SoQL-Only Mode only occurs when a written SoQL query is run within the SoQL Query Editor, and its resulting structure cannot be represented visually in the VQE tabs.

Once a view is published, even if its underlying query was complex enough to trigger SoQL-Only Mode, the published version can once again be explored using the VQE. SoQL-Only Mode only applies to the query currently being structured. So, if you are exploring a published asset, you are creating a brand new query on it, and it will be possible to use both the VQE and the SoQL Query Editor as usual.

Note: The trigger for SoQL-Only Mode is the use of SoQL functions, operations, or overall query complexity not visually supportable within VQE tabs. As the Exploration Canvas is developed further and new functionality is added to the VQE, the scope of things that can be done without triggering SoQL-Only Mode will grow.

Undo / Redo

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The Exploration Canvas allows you to step back and forward through the applied changes you’ve made during the course of your session. By using the undo and redo buttons in the upper right corner of Exploration Canvas you can step back to the prior change that was run by hitting “Apply”. The redo button can then step back forward all the way to the most recent apply.

Note: You can only revert back to changes within the current browser session, so if you refresh the page or navigate to another page you can no longer undo your changes.

Creating Derived Views

When first opening a published asset in the Exploration Canvas, you will see these options in the Asset Action Bar at the top of the page (whether or not you also see the “Edit” button depends on your permissions):

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If you’d like to start building your own asset here, click “Create View” to create a new draft view. You’ll see a modal that prompts you to name your view before proceeding:

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Read-Only Interactions

In the Exploration Canvas, you can utilize both the VQE and the SoQL Query Editor for ad-hoc, “read-only” exploration of published assets without having to create a draft first. This option has not been available in the Grid View on internal domains; adding it to the Exploration Canvas helps save time and effort during your day-to-day workflows.

To take advantage of this, simply start exploring or shaping your data with the VQE and SoQL Query Editor. As soon as you’ve applied your first configuration, you’ll see that the “Create View” option in the Asset Action Bar changes into “Save As”:

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As soon as you’re ready to save your work, click “Save As.” This will open the same “Name Your View” modal pictured above.

If you do have unsaved work and navigate away from the Exploration Canvas, a modal will appear so that you can confirm whether or not you’d like to discard those unsaved changes:

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  • Click “Cancel” to close the modal and continue using the Exploration Canvas.

  • Click “Discard changes” to discard your work and continue to your destination.

  • If you do want to save your work, enter a name in the text field and click “Save.”

Copy This Asset

A new “Copy This Asset” feature is also available for derived views opened in the Exploration Canvas (subject to permissions restrictions). Simply click the kebab button in the Asset Action Bar and select “Copy This Asset”:

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A modal appears for you to name the new copy being created; after you submit a name, a draft of the duplicate asset will open in a new browser tab.

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If you have any questions about the content of this article, please reach out to our Support Team at socrata-support@tylertech.com.

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