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When writing an answer like the one here, I felt the need to create tables to display summarized data. Since I believe we are a site that encourages users to provide detailed data whenever possible, I was surprised to find after discussing with several folks that there is no easy way to create a searchable, consistently formatted, visually attractive table. The options that I am aware of are:

  • Create table in another program, then screen capture and post the image.
    • This option is not searchable, and will also likely produce many different visual looks. You can see I screen cap'd simple html formatted tables, but I could have easily screen cap'd an excel spreadsheet, or output from another similar program.
  • Indent four spaces and use a the monospace font to make a text table.
    • I originally took this to be the best, if somewhat tedious solution, since it is fully searchable. I quickly found that a table that easily fits with html formatting was far too wide to fit with the default monospaced font. So I could either greatly alter the data in my table to fit within space constraints, or go the image route - which is what I did.

Is there another solution I'm not aware of? If not, do others agree that this feature would be valuable (and ultimately can it be added)?

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6

As a workaround, Google Docs spreadsheets' charts might help somewhat.

You can make a table, then select it all, and go to Insert, Chart, and on the Charts tab, select More (at the bottom), then pick the bottom option, the Table style. This will drop the chart (table) onto the worksheet that you can resize to get rid of some whitespace and make it so the columns/rows don't look strange.

Then, in the options menu (top right corner when mousing over the chart), go to Publish chart, select Image for the publish format. SE supports the <img> tag, so you can just copy-paste that into a post.

Not necessary, but as an extra; especially for math-y tables, link the spreadsheet. Share the document with the internet (Anyone with the link), then hyperlink the image back to the worksheet.

That's what I did for this post, and it looks half-decent:

In case you were interested in the cumulative costs:

Cumulative costs starting with chipped gems

[The source image is too wide, so it's a little crushed]

Rather than starting with a Chipped gem, here are cumulative costs starting with Flawless Squares (the highest rank gem that drops):

Cumulative costs starting with flawless squares

I think because I linked to the source spreadsheet (read-only), someone else can copy it to their own Docs collection and edit it if they so choose.

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  • 1
    Perhaps a workaround, but a very very good workaround. Awesome answer, thank you.
    – EBongo
    Jun 6 '12 at 2:35
  • I'd like to note that the result is an image and not a text, so textual searches will not be able to find it.
    – Oak
    Jun 6 '12 at 7:18
  • @Oak how often does that matter? 1) presumably searches would get better hits on the question, 2) most answers benefit from a little prose anyways (or they're poor/the question is trivial), 3) isolated cells inside a table lacking context aren't terribly searchable. For the above example, the only "loss" of functionality I could envision is someone searching "581104000 gems" on Google.
    – Nick T
    Jun 6 '12 at 7:25
  • Maybe it's not that bad, but I do think it's certainly noteworthy, which is why I added a comment starting with "I'd like to note" :) as someone who does a lot of data mining - including mining information from stackoverflow for academic purposes - I always prefer text to images when possible. But I agree I don't find it to be of critical importance.
    – Oak
    Jun 6 '12 at 7:34
  • If the spreadsheet is published read/write, will updating the sheet update the image? Could be important if stuff needs editing (the linked question, for instance, after 1.0.3 is applied).
    – MBraedley
    Jun 6 '12 at 11:37
  • 1
    Also, I realize that means that edits could go unchecked. Which just goes to show we need native table making ability.
    – MBraedley
    Jun 6 '12 at 11:44
  • @MBraedley yes, changes to the source updates the chart/table. You could force yourself to "update" the post if instead of hotlinking to the published image you save and upload it.
    – Nick T
    Jun 6 '12 at 22:36
4

Table support is here, as of 7th Dec, 2020

See the announcement post on Meta Stack Exchange

Who ❤️'s A Good Table?
This bloke definitely does ❤️❤️❤️
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Websites like this one can be used to easily create the markup needed for okay-looking tables in markdown. This will take care of the tediousness of writing it out yourself, at least.

Using the example from that page, it will show up like this after adding <pre> tags:

| Tables   |      Are      |  Cool |
|----------|:-------------:|------:|
| col 1 is |  left-aligned | $1600 |
| col 2 is |    centered   |   $12 |
| col 3 is | right-aligned |    $1 |

It's a little more practical that the information is manipulable, and can be edited on the fly. It's also easier to copy, for later reference. And it can be searched, as the OP mentioned.

And it looks like the 1980's, which is indubitably not a bad thing.

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  • 1
    That markdown table format would probably render perfectly with the new table support.
    – Robotnik Mod
    Dec 8 '20 at 0:50

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