Dabble DB

The Dabble Blog

Archives: October 2005

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First Reactions to Dabble

A roundup of the first set of comments to come in after our announcement on Monday:

Jim Menard points out the “synchronicity” of Google sort-of-launching their own database service the day after we posted about ours. Clearly, this is just an idea whose time has come, right? In fact, Google Base and Dabble appear to have very different goals: Google is interested only in public data, and only for the purpose of searching it, as opposed to aggregating and reporting on it. If you want to list a used car for sale, Google Base might be a great tool; if you want to track the inventory and salespeople on your used car lot, Dabble DB is probably a better match. But Google moves fast and information about Google Base is scarce; this will be an interesting one to watch.

42zen speculates that Dabble could be the first web application platform to “allow users to build their own web apps without actually knowing any code”. I suspect that JotSpot, for example, might take issue with that, but it depends on what you count as code: Patrick Logan has already demonstrated how arcane their wiki syntax can be, and even something like QuickBase can require the occasional voodoo incantation. For our part, we’ve made a conscious effort to stay away from anything that smells of source code, preferring a direct manipulation metaphor wherever possible. It may limit our possibilities as developers, but it also keeps us honest - once you let code sneak in, it’s too easy to focus on adding features (what’s one more keyword?) rather than maintaining usability. Which isn’t to say that the “big text box” approach to configuration wasn’t getting awfully tempting around the 7th iteration of Dabble’s interface…

However, it seems that our obsession with usable and elegant UI may have paid off, at least when seen from a screenshot: Chris Langreiter writes, simply, “Beautiful”, a theme which earl.strain.at (barely) expands upon: “Breathtaking Beauty”. We think so too.

Ian Prince, one of our early beta testers, asserts that Dabble “elegantly combine[s] the power of a database with the ease of use of a spreadsheet”. Why, thank you, Ian - if we had a blurbs page, you’d go right to the top.

But my favorite quote so far is from Chad Fowler, another early tester, whose closing paragraph starts:

I’ve been sitting silently on Dabble for a few months now as Smallthought has been working on it. Every time I see one of these “Web 2.0″ posts pop up in my RSS aggregator, I bite my tongue. I don’t know what “Web 2.0″ is, but I hope it’s like this.

Introducing Dabble

You might have noticed that we haven’t posted anything to this blog lately.

That’s not because we’re lazy. That’s not the only reason, anyway. It’s because we’ve been busy taking some of our thoughts on incrementality, hidden power, and the long tail of radically tailorable software, and turning them into code.

We’re pretty happy with where we’ve gotten so far, and we’re ready to share what we’re doing with a few more people. So as of today, we’re collecting email addresses on the Smallthought front page, and we plan to start sending out beta invites over the coming weeks as capacity allows. At the same time, we’ll be posting some screenshots, movies, and descriptions to this blog to give everyone a peek at what we’ve been doing and why.

So, what have we been working on? We’re calling it Dabble, with emphasis on the Db: it’s a database system for dabblers. We’d naturally be happy if professional developers, DBAs, and business analysts find our system useful, but we won’t be satisfied until we have something that works for everyone in the millions of small businesses and teams for whom data management is purely a sideline, a necessary evil of doing whatever line of work they’re really in.

But more than that: Dabble is for everyone that wants to experiment with their data, evolve it, explore it, improve it incrementally and interactively. We like to think that Dabble is to most database systems as finger paints or plasticine are to granite and chisel: something that lets you stick your hands in your data, roll it around, play with it, and most importantly, never set in stone.

Want to know more? Check it out. Leave us your email address or drop us a line. And watch this space.

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