Dabble DB

The Dabble Blog

Archives: June 2006

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Dennis Howlett is wondering about how to do calculations in Dabble. It’s true that when he first tried it three months ago there wasn’t any formula support. But since then (as noted in our blog, our forum, and by google) we’ve added them — not in the Excel-like way that Dennis was likely expecting, but more in keeping with our no-programming and direct manipulation philosophies. So here’s a little screenshot inspired by the screenshot on Dennis’ blog. Hope it helps:


Thanks Dennis - it’s always nice to have an excuse to show off new features.


While we’re announcing things, it’s time to formally introduce some of the new faces at Smallthought:

  • We’re pleased to welcome Dr. Paul Kedrosky to our board of directors. We’ve been after Paul since seeing him speak at the Vancouver Enterprise Forum last October: he’s local, he’s data obsessed, he’s healthily contrarian, and he understands the intersection of the enterprise and consumer web better than anyone. Our early attempts to catch his eye may not have worked so well, but we landed him in the end. Paul joins us this week in conjunction with our new financing from Ventures West.
  • Luke Andrews of Attaboy Media is an old friend and the man behind Dabble’s stunning visual design. He’s also been involved in shaping the user experience since the very first prototypes. We consider him indispensable, which is why we’re so happy to have finally wrested him away from his other clients: starting next month, Luke will be working on Dabble full time.
  • I first worked with Colin Putney years ago when he was the CTO of Whistler.com and I was getting my start as a consultant. We’ve collaborated off and on since then, and his commitment to code quality, and broad range of managerial and technological skills have continued to impress me. When an opportunity came up to hire him earlier this year as a developer, we jumped at the chance.

We’re still a small enough group to get things done, but as we shift into high gear with Dabble it’s nice to have a little more horsepower. With a great team behind the product and great partners in Ventures West, we’re looking very much forward to the months ahead.

Launched and Funded: All Dabblers welcome

As reported in a number of places, Dabble DB is now officially open to the public. If you haven’t already, please watch our short demo video and give it a try for yourself.

Our launch is enabled in part by our second piece of news: we’ve now closed a venture financing deal with Ventures West here in Vancouver. As we’ve mentioned elsewhere, we’ve supported Dabble’s development with our consulting business up to this point. This has been great way to bootstrap, but now that we want to invite the whole world in, Dabble needs to have our full focus.

We won’t be disclosing the terms of the deal, but needless to say we’re quite happy with them.

In conjunction with the launch, we’re also releasing our first take at a Dabble Javascript API. Using this API, you can easily create forms to submit new entries to your Dabble databases, for example from a blog post or external web site. You can also get the data in any saved view as JSON objects, which you can use to build custom views of your data. We spent a long time evaluating different approaches to APIs, but chose to go with Javascript for one compelling reason: it allows you to integrate Dabble databases with other websites without any server side programming whatsoever.

Ismael Ghalimi, who has been an adventurous Dabble user, has been piloting the API. He’s been powering his Office 2.0 setup page with our API for some time, and is now also using it to backend his Intalio web site. To see examples of the external forms, you might want to leave him an Office 2.0 quote or perhaps tell him about your Office 2.0 setup.

More detail can be found in the API guide, which is also available from within the application.

Feeping Creaturism

This is mostly of interest to those who are already Dabble users: we’ve been starting to write short posts about new features as we add them in the Dabble user forum. Recent additions of note include formula fields and a permanent edit mode.

Shouldn’t be spreadsheets, redux

A lot of people have been asking us (both privately and publicly) about Google’s new spreadsheet and how it compares to Dabble. Given that we’ve been saying from day one that we’re trying to help users move beyond spreadsheets for the (many) tasks where they’re inappropriate, this is a little bit amusing - but it’s also a good opportunity to spell out some differences.

Here’s the key point: when it comes to managing data, Google Spreadsheet (like other web-based spreadsheets) is only solving half of the collaboration problem. Yes, it lets everybody access and edit the same data over the web, and that’s an important improvement over the email-the-Excel-file-around strategy many groups are stuck with. But it also forces everybody to look at that data in exactly the same way. That’s fine when everyone who’s working with the data has substantially the same interests and roles - like letting the board members of a company or non-profit all take a poke at its budget - but not for more diverse collaborations between team members who are each coming at the data from a different angle. This is how the most painful spreadsheet-emailing processes come about, and it’s where something like Dabble gives you the biggest benefit: getting many different views, and performing many different tasks, using the same data.

It helps to have an example. I’ve spent a lot of time working with people who help to run arts festivals - dance, music, film, and theatre. One core kind of data that everyone there needs to access and contribute to is the list of shows happening at the festival. There’s a lot of information associated with each show, and it’s typically collected by different people: the programming director might put together a simple schedule for each venue, the technical director will assemble a list of technical requirements for each show, the box office manager will keep tabs on the prices and numbers of each ticket that’s been sold. It would be absurd to prepare one monster spreadsheet with all of this information: the box office manager really doesn’t want to know how many microphones a given act needs, any more than the technical director cares how many tickets it sold. But it’s also painful to keep them separate: if the programming director moves a show from one venue to another, that change needs to ripple out to everyone. And synthesizing the data is important too: the house manager for a given venue might well want to know both what gear is needed for each show and how many tickets were sold for it - but only for shows running at his or her venue.

If you’re managing all of this with spreadsheets, whether web-based or not, it’s easy for someone to end up with a full time job of updating, combining, and extracting data from these various lists, and getting new synthesized and filtered versions out to everyone that needs them. That’s not a good use of the limited resources of a small team.

It would be fair to say that most of Dabble’s features are really in service of this one goal: putting the core data in once and only once (the shows and venues), while letting related data be both separate (looking at box office receipts is a totally different task from looking at technical requirements), and combinable (see all the data for a venue…) as well as filterable (…but only that venue). Not to mention viewing that data as, say, a calendar or an RSS feed rather than just a table. If (and only if) you genuinely don’t need any of that, a web-based spreadsheet is probably just fine.

It’s worth remembering, however, that different roles and contexts don’t always have to come from different people. They can, and often do, come from the same person at different times. The next time you find yourself with a 3-year old spreadsheet spiralling out of control as you try to adapt it to one more use, you might consider importing your data into a tool that was built with evolution in mind.

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