Today we're launching Pages, a major shift for Dabble, driven entirely by our users.
When we first built Dabble, we thought we knew exactly who our customers would be: small workgroups of 5 or 10 users, with roughly equivalent capabilities. Sure, maybe one user would do the majority of the database set-up, and the others would just enter and explore data, but that would basically be it.
Well, at least we weren't completely wrong. There have indeed been many such groups using Dabble -- most Dabble customers actually start out this way. However, fairly quickly we started getting requests for features that didn't really fit into our model: the ability to code custom interfaces and forms, sophisticated access control -- scary stuff given our goals of simplicity and elegance.
We struggled quite a bit with this. When people explained why they needed these things, it all sounded completely reasonable. Yet, the thought of a Dabble where you wrote code and set up complex permissions made us collectively cringe.
We tried some things. We made it possible to generate html that could be pasted our users' web pages. A small set of people made this work for them. However, for our target audience, those who are trying to avoid hosting web pages in the first place, this wasn't a great solution. We also tried a number of attempts at access control, piloting them with users, but were never satisfied enough to release them more widely.
Fundamentally, it came down to the fact that there are (at least) two kinds of Dabble users:
- core users who need basically full access to the data, potentially with the ability to modify the structure of the database itself
- satellite users who need to interact with databases in very limited ways, potentially only being able to enter the odd bit of data now and then, or maybe tracking a small subset of the data. Another important thing to note is that satellite users only use Dabble because core users have asked them to.
This was solidified in our minds when literally in the space of a few hours we received the following two feedback messages:
Awesome! This is the absolute best thing I have found on the web! Everything I have been looking for and trying to build on my own forever. Better than FileMaker Pro, Access, Excel!
Sorry, no constructive criticism. Just outing my frustration this once at having to work with this much too slow, most user-unfriendly system I have ever worked with.
Having looked to this closer, you can guess who we found was the core user and who was the satellite user. The thing is, they are both right! I'm quite proud of the user experience we've crafted for core users, but if you are a satellite user asked to use Dabble to enter call center data, it's far too complex, far too slow to work with. Your needs are completely different.
Dabble Pages are our way to let core Dabble users support satellite users. Rather than clutter up the core application with complicated access control or user interface configuration, we decided to let core users build out interface for satellite users, exposing exactly what is necessary. We had to make sure that building pages was simple in the same way that the rest of Dabble was simple: nothing that looks like code, direct manipulation metaphors, incrementality.
What we've released today is just the first step down this path. Via a drag 'n drop interface, users can create pages with custom forms that can be shared with particular people or exposed publicly, with some very simple provisions for workflow tying them together. Luke has written about the current nuts and bolts in our forum, and we'll be adding more and more functionality to them in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.