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If you think your Power BI report supports dynamic comments, think again. What are often implemented in Power BI reports as ‘Comments’ – either through PowerApps or third-party visuals – are simply filterable notes.
But what is the difference? How does it matter?
“Most implementations of ‘Comments’ in Power BI, including those in custom visuals, are simply ‘Notes’”
To understand the difference, we need to look at the history of notes vs. comments in the world of Excel.
Microsoft originally had a ‘notes’ feature in the 90s that helped users provide additional context or description. Here is a snapshot from Excel 95 showcasing the ability to insert a note.
Excel 97 subsequently changed it to ‘Comments’, which introduced the yellow box interface that we all are familiar with. This change remained in practice for more than two decades. Here is a snapshot from Excel 2010 with the ability to insert ‘Comments’. Note how the icon resembles a typical sticky-note.
Here is an image from Excel 2016, continuing that trend.
However, with the introduction of Office 365, things started changing. Microsoft had realized that collaboration is going to be the future for productivity tools, especially in Office designed for the web. It introduced a new ‘threaded comments’ feature across Word, PowerPoint and Excel. This was essentially a commenting feature with a reply box, which empowered users to engage in conversations.
The Excel team now had a conflict. It could not have two ‘Comment’ features. To resolve this, the Excel team renamed the pre-existing ‘comments’ feature to ‘notes’ again.
In fact, there was a period of time during when the notes feature (the sticky yellow note) was entirely dropped out of Excel web. Only in August 2021 was this fully reinstated in the browser version of Excel.
Today, you can access both Notes & Comments from the context menu in Excel. Observe the subtle difference in the icons.
In short, notes are used to explain, annotate, or add context to data. Comments are something more that notes – in that they come with a ‘Reply’ feature, using which users can interact with each other. The differences are highlighted below.
Well, what does all this mean to Power BI?
Power BI offers comments out-of-the-box, but this is only at the report-level or visual-level. As with Office365, you can also use @mentions and engage in a conversation with other users.
However, you cannot do data-level commenting in Power BI. To address this, users started looking into custom implementations and third-party visuals.
In the quest to perform data-level commenting, the Power BI community overlooked the change in nomenclature that Excel experienced in 2018. As a result, the Power BI landscape today has lot of 'comments' implementations that are simply some form of 'notes' or annotations - as they do not support or facilitate user conversations.
There are several options to perform dynamic, filterable, data-level annotations (notes) in Power BI. You can use Power App or third-party visuals to implement this. However, they do not have a ‘reply to’ option and cannot support threaded conversations.
However, they are still referred to as comments, while in reality they are implementations of filterable, data-level notes.
Remember that to truly support commenting, today’s solution needs to satisfy these needs:
As Office 365 and the Excel web experiences are bound to get more popular, keeping the Power BI nomenclature in sync with Excel will avoid any potential confusion in the user base. An earlier course-correction will also save a lot of heartache down the line.
Taking a cue from Office 365, we at Inforiver decided to offer both notes & comments out-of-the-box for Power Bi reports. With Inforiver, you can deliver highly specific data-level notes – at the cell, row and column levels. Footnotes are supported too. Check out our notes interface as shown below.
Inforiver also delivers an exhaustive Comments feature, where users can have threaded conversations as seen below. It supports row, cell and column-level comments. You can also use @mentions to grab the attention of another user, who will also receive a corresponding email notification.
Both notes & comments in Inforiver are dynamic – in that they are tied to a specific data point, row or measure. Filtering the report makes the comment appear at the appropriate location – as it is always tied to the data.
But the similarities stop there. Notes & Comments in Inforiver are different in the following ways:
So, which one do your Power BI reports use? Notes or comments? If you are using only Notes, and would like to explore true commenting in Power BI, try out the Enterprise Edition of Inforiver today.