Traditionally, when we entered information into a Microsoft Excel cell, the range of data types was very limited: integers, decimal numbers, text string, date, currency, and boolean (true False). So the data type string (or ‘string’) ended up being the most used for its flexibility.
However, Microsoft must have thought that it is enough to use such generic and simple data types, so the company has just introduced 100 new data types that help to delimit the possible values that we will introduce in the cells.
“Imagine a world where cells are not limited to a simple text …”
Thus, some of the new data types, based on popular topic categories and aggregated in collaboration with Wolfram Alpha (which serves as the source of information that can be automatically included in the spreadsheet), will be as follows:
Foods: calories, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, nutrients, etc.
Exercise: types of exercise and calories burned.
Locations: postal codes, economic data, airports, schools, forests, etc.
Universities: graduation rates, enrollment, students, etc.
Chemistry: elements, compounds and minerals.
Space: planets, moons, satellites, supernovae, space missions, etc.
Films: actors, characters, directors, release dates, poster, etc.
These data may be referenced in formulas and manipulated as we normally would in tables, but its greatest potential lies in automatic suggestions for including (and filling in) columns that Excel will show us based on the type of data chosen.
Thus, we could, for example, use old postal code listings in numerical format to automatically convert them to the ‘postal code’ data type and automatically add a column (updateable) with the population of the locality or district in question. This change (which is accompanied by new smart templates) aims, in Microsoft’s words, “to facilitate the task of monitoring and analyzing data”.
Actually, it is not the first step that Excel takes in this direction: two years ago it introduced (for users of the Office Insiders program) new types of geographic data that allowed, thanks to artificial intelligence, that when writing ‘France’ the program recognized it as a ‘country’ type data, and allow us to automatically associate you with additional attributes like population and GDP.
John Campbell, Microsoft Excel Program Manager, was wondering at the time
“What would be possible if Excel evolves into a world where cells are not limited to a single piece of plain text, but can contain much more complex concepts?”
To start experimenting with this new functionality, we need to have a subscription to Microsoft 365, participate in the Office Insiders program and run either the 2007 version of the Beta channel (build 13029.20006) if you are using Windows, or the 16.40 version of the Insider Fast channel (build 20062901) …. well, that and (for now) be part of some English-speaking market.
Sharing Excel will allow you to use more than 100 new types of enriched data: food, movies, geographic locations …