Dabble DB

The Dabble Blog

Archives: August 2006

« June 2006 · September 2006 »

The internets are made of tubes

I had a fabulous time at FOO Camp this weekend. Alex Russell of the Dojo Foundation said it perfectly:

I’ve never experienced that depth and breadth of experience in one place before. Yesterday morning, I woke up at 9:30 after having gone to sleep at about 4:30 and I was kicking myself for having not been up at 7 because I could have been talking to people instead of sleeping.

It was that awesome.

Tim, thanks so much for letting me be a part of that.

Alex also mentions in his post the session I led on “pipes and filters for the web”. I’ve been thinking a lot about Open Data since giving a talk at the O’Reilly Executive Briefing, where that was one of the themes. More and more, we’re getting feeds and APIs that let us move structured data from one place to another, but the data’s not truly open until everyone - not just programmers - can use it to their own ends. One of the questions that came up at the session was, “How could we build HousingMaps from a few standard parts, without writing any code?” How do we democratize the mash-up?

The screencast that Andrew just posted shows our early experiments in that direction. With Dabble, anyone can now import data from a feed, combine it with data from elsewhere, restructure and filter it as needed, and push it out as another feed so the process can repeat. We’re especially careful to make sure those downstream consumers are well provided for, by putting structured elements in the style of IE7’s Simple List Extensions into all of our RSS feeds from now on.

There’s lots more work to do, of course. For example, these imports are one-time only, not recurring subscriptions as they should be. We need better standard ways of dealing with rich types like locations and date ranges. And although there are some good examples of structured data embedded in RSS, the majority of web apps still provide vanilla feeds.

So, let’s get to it.

Digg into Dabble

It’s been a while since we’ve released a cool Dabble video, so I’ve thrown one together to show off some new work we’ve done with interesting data import and integration (you Unix types out there can think of it as “pipes and filters for the web”). We’ve just started down this path, and there is no end to the work we can do to enable more of this sort of thing, but the results so far are encouraging. Check it out:


[Update: feel free to Digg this story]

G-Fearing Technologists

And of course by G I mean Google.. The announcement of Google Office, combined with recent news of Kiko running square into Google Calendar and opting for an Ebay IPO, has everyone in a tizzy. We’re even getting people asking us what we’re going to do even though, as far as I know, Google doesn’t even have a product that competes with Dabble*.

The lesson in all of this isn’t a new one. As David has said, you have to be different, you have to create your own blue oceans. Sorry folks, all recent irrational fear and excitement aside, this isn’t a consequence of the mighty G. It was already true.

* Update: despite the fact that there are those who are convinced that Dabble is a spreadsheet ;)

We’ve moved… (II)

… to a new office overlooking the Stamps Landing marina in lovely False Creek, about a two minute boat ride (or 10 minute drive) from downtown Vancouver. We’re sharing the space with Greg and Beau from Treefly — that’s Beau in the picture showing off our patio.

I’ll miss my favorite cafés, but you can’t beat that view… remind me why everyone doesn’t live in Vancouver?

We’ve moved…

…but not very far.

Just a note that the address of this blog is now http://dabbledb.com/blog/. We’re still called Smallthought, but since this blog is all about Dabble, we thought it was more appropriate to move it into the site. Update your bookmarks if you’re keen. (Or don’t — the old address will still bring you here.)

Web 2.0, Eh?

We made this month’s Business 2.0 magazine in a story about the “world’s hottest startups” (where “the world” means “anywhere but the US”). We get to fly the Canadian flag for them, and we’re proud to do so.

I did find this bit from the article amusing, though:

And all, except Bokee and Toodou, are available in English, which goes to show how easily an online business anywhere in the world can go after the U.S. market.

Just think, a Canadian company going out of its way to address the American English-speaking market. C’est vraiment choquant, ça.

On the Seaside

If you have a technical bent, or you are a web developer, you might be interested in the application framework underneath Dabble DB. It’s an open-source system called Seaside, and recently Avi spent some time talking about it (and Dabble itself) to people at the O’Reilly Open Source Convention (OSCON). You can listen to the conversation.

Disposable Software

Alex Bunardzic has a nice post on what he’s calling “Disposable Software”:

The original disposable software platform is Microsoft Excel. This platform is used all over the world for cobbling up quick-and-dirty software driven systems. From soccer Moms’ flaky game schedule to the local community center Fall pottery class schedule, Excel spreadsheet are the reliable workhorses pulling the carts of social and group dynamics.

The problem with Excel spreadsheets is that they are not networked. They tend to be flaky little islands of information, with a tendency to clone themselves and then deteriorate over time. The end result is that many of these social groups end up with eighteen versions of the same schedule in eighteen different spreadsheets, and no one knows for sure which version is the correct one.

Because of that, group dynamics is much better served on the web.

Amen, brother. Alex is suggesting the well-known Ruby on Rails platform as the solution. I’m not sure I agree (Excel users, read through his description of how he built an app with Rails, and tell me if it makes any sense to you) but I love the term.

It’s not that our goal with Dabble is to make all software disposable - we take great care to make it possible to sustain the use and of reuse software that was started as a throwaway (Software Recycling?) - but sometimes you really do just want to play around with some data, make a decision, and drop it. We’re working on some features to make that easier with Dabble; look for a post on them soon.

Give us your poor, your tired, your huddled spreadsheet users…

We sometimes get emails asking us if Dabble DB is appropriate for this or that application. Of course we always recommend people try it for themselves, since we offer a free one-month trial for people to get their feet wet.

If you just have a quick question though, it’s worth noting that our users’ forum is now open to the public. We answer support requests as often as possible, but our growing user base is also often happy to answer questions from new users.

Compact and Pivot

One of the things we like to talk about is how Dabble DB lets you view your data in different ways without having to manually re-arrange things as in a spreadsheet. Move your columns around, add and remove subtotals, filter results, and do it all without affecting how your colleagues see the data. The data itself may be someone else’s business, but how you look at it is yours.

At the moment we have two primary views in Dabble: a table view which is similar to a traditional spreadsheet, and a calendar view, which lets you work with date-based information. People using Dabble with larger amounts of data have been asking us, however, for a variant on the table view which would allow them to see aggregate data.

For instance, if you have 5000 entries in a financial report and you’ve grouped them by a particular category, it could be useful to see just the subtotals for those groups. Well we’ve recently introduced exactly this feature. We call it compact view — it takes your normal table view, and squashes it to give you just the highlights. It also allows you to pivot data from being rows to being columns (from horizontal to vertical).

This can be a powerful way to look at data, so we’re very happy that it’s part of Dabble now. As usual with these sorts of things though, it’s often easier to show than tell, so without further ado, here’s a 60-second demo showing off the compact view, using a fictitious invoice application.

The demo starts with a list of invoices and then shows how you can use different types of grouping to get different summaries of the data.

« June 2006 · September 2006 »