Dabble DB

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Archives: August 2007

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Dabble Pages

Today we're launching Pages, a major shift for Dabble, driven entirely by our users.

Pagesbuild_2 Pages_3


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.


Smallthought Systems in BizTech Magazine

Three Nimble, Fast and Small software startups are featured in the September 2007 issue of CDW's BizTech Magazine: Ipolipo, 37Signals, and yours truly.  Many thanks to Dave Chappelle for the words and Christopher J. Morris for the photos.


The unsexy decisions when starting your business.

There are many large feats to overcome when turning a brilliant business idea into a successful operation.  A quick search will pull up pages and pages of guides, tips, and assistance.  Very few of those lists go down to the the level of taking time in selecting the right tools for managing, say, you and your partner's garden design projects, or your yoga studio's member/teacher/class database.

Sure, securing assets, designing the website, finding the right location, taking care of the legal logistics, and other big picture items get all the glory.  Keep in mind, getting your systematized work flow right in the early stages lets you continue to focus on the idea and not the administration.

For the purposes of igniting your imagination when working with Dabble DB, take a look at some of the ways other users are quickly growing to rely on their applications.

If you are a new business using Dabble DB and would be interested in becoming a case study or have a story that should be included in our list, send us an email.


Wow, I feel productive already.

There were some good posts following our announcement yesterday of Dabble Do: our thanks go out to thoughtful pieces from Read/WriteWeb, Mark Evans, Marketing Pilgrim, Matthew Ingram, TechCrunch, and others. Nothing can quite compare, though, with this post and comic from ITGumbo's Leah Archibald.

Click through to read the whole thing. I'm speechless.

-- Avi

Introducing Dabble Do

We're very happy to announce our second product: Dabble Do, a social to-do list.

The interaction's the thing

With social to-dos, it's all about the interactions. Everyone has their own list of the items assigned to them. Like with any to-do list, you can assign items to yourself, but the more interesting part is that you can also assign items to your friends, and be kept up-to-date on their status.

Whenever someone assigns you an item, depending on how you're feeling, you can respond to it in a number of ways:

  • Industrious: complete it by checking it off;
  • Contrarian: reject it by sending it back to the assigner; or
  • Lazy: "pass the buck" and reassign it someone else

If you have assigned the item to a friend, you can "crack the whip" to remind them of it. It's also great for those of you who just like to crack whips.

One of the most important things for us has been to keep the experience as simple as possible, to make sure the software stays out of the way.

Less features

One of our early users described Dabble Do as "primitive to the point of usefulness", which was music to our ears. Unlike with Dabble DB, which aims for supreme flexibility to support business users, we've used constraints all over the place to make Dabble Do as consumer-friendly as possible. For example:

  • an item is assigned to one and only one user: if the assigner gets this wrong, you can always pass the buck anyway
  • while Dabble DB allows you to view items in many ways, Dabble Do just shows them to you in whatever way makes the most sense at the time

That Dabble DB feeling

While we've endeavoured to tip the scales away from power and towards simplicity, there are some powerful things you can do that only make the user's experience simpler. One feature like this we've borrowed from Dabble DB is the flexible date/time handling. In Dabble Do, you can enter dates/times like "next wednesday" and "two weeks from now" and it will Just Work.


The number one thing we've done in the name of simplicity is to outsource the social network itself to Facebook. For anyone away on walkabout for the past year, Facebook has grown into one of the biggest and best social networks out there. If you've only been on walkabout for a few months, the launch of Facebook apps has provided a way for third parties to plug new functionality into this growing network.

Since this launch, there has been an explosion of entertaining, fun, if not generally useful apps clamouring for users' attention. We'd like Dabble Do to be a poster child for what a Facebook app can really be: built to fit into the network, maintaining the feeling of fun that Facebook has established, but being truly useful.

We've also tried to make the experience as user-focused as we can: we don't demand that a user spam all their friends as their first act upon adding Dabble Do. Instead, we let them invite their friends gradually, when they actually have something they'd like their friends to do.

We've been playing with Dabble Do for a few weeks now, and it's been a lot of fun. As of today Dabble Do is open to the public, so you can play too. We're hoping you enjoy it as much as we have: check it out


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