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.
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.
On Monday, the server that hosted our main web site, including this blog and our user forum, had a major catastrophe and died. We spent the rest of the day getting a new server up and running to take its place. Perhaps it was a sort of comeuppance as we were recently congratulating ourselves on having launched Dabble DB a year ago and having had no system-wide outages — scheduled or otherwise — in that entire time.
Unfortunately, the server that went down was also responsible for directing requests to the various servers that host customer databases, so everyone lost access to their databases for a time too. No public web site, no blog, no forum, no database access... all in all, not our finest hour.
Naturally there are lessons to be learned after such disasters. We've identified some of the weaknesses in our old system and are taking steps to make sure that when the next server fails, it will be a less calamitous affair. Our systems will be more independent so that we can better communicate with you in the event of emergency. This blog, for instance, is now hosted off-site by the fine folks at TypePad, so it should always be available for us to give status updates. (You may want to change your bookmarks to http://blog.dabbledb.com/).
I'm proud to say that in all the mayhem, we lost absolutely no data. A little hair and some sanity on the other hand... aah, who needs 'em?
Granted, I am someone who is prone to completing the surveys that arrive in my inbox or pop up on my regularly-visited sites – but I am always curious to know the outcome and never get to find out. So I am sharing some of the information we’ve discovered and confirmed with the recent survey. First and foremost, there are a number of ways in which Dabble DB helps us with these results. The responses are put into our survey application via the scheduled import feature. The data is always up-to-date and very easy to manipulate.
One of the questions asked you about the ways you use the web database. A quick grouping of the field allows me to create a chart view to look at these different functions in an organized way.
Some of the answers in the Other category were incredibly specific! Obviously there are as many uses for Dabble DB as there are users.
Here are a handful of your favorite features:
- The cut-and-paste import. Hands down.
- The ability to export live views is amazing.
- The speed of creating the data structures I need.
- Nontraditional views (graphs, calendar, map)
- The possibility to change the database after having filled some values. Everything is dynamic.
- Flexibility. In Dabble DB, it’s infinity +1. Ease of use, something your team is very careful about, is also heads and shoulders above the alternatives.
As for the feature requests, we heard them loud and clear. Many of them were already on the list. Since he said it so well, I’ll quote Luke: “We’re always looking for areas where we can make incremental improvements to the user experience and feature set. There will never be a Dabble DB 1.5 or Dabble DB CS 2008 Extended Edition that requires an upgrade disc and installation instructions.”
Many thanks to those who responded. Dayna
I know, such personal questions, but I want to collect examples of the different ways current customers are using Dabble DB. All of you have unique needs when it comes to uses for our service. I’m looking for the broadest cross-section I can get – the self-employed professionals managing client lists; the businesses controlling member or product information; the event planners scheduling conferences and events.
If you are interested in potentially having your story on our website and are willing to answer a few questions for me, please send an email to email@example.com.
I’m looking forward to seeing how you use Dabble DB.
We’ll have a table in the Graduate Circle: drop by and say hi..
I’ve been talking about “pipes and filters for the web” since leading a session with that title at FOO Camp last summer, and Yahoo has just released the most direct riff on that meme yet: Pipes. Although they’re coming at things from a very different angle (shades of Prograph or Max/MSP as well as Automator), Pipes seems to me very much in the spirit of what we’re doing with our data import and plugin features, and it makes me very happy to see something so polished come out in this space. It’s also nice of Yahoo’s Jeremy Zawodny to acknowledge us in his post on Pipes, as well as Dapper - I’d also, incidentally, put openkapow on the same list.
Congratulations to the Pipes team, I’m looking forward to tinkering with plumbing.
It’s been a couple of months since I last shared customer feedback, so here’s some more. I received the email below from John Felt, the CIO of the Advocacy Center for Louisiana. I’m reproducing it with his permission:
Let me commend you folks for creating a really impressive platform. I have already created several working applications and have passed a couple of more down to one of my employees to manage. I did all of the evaluation I need, and am now ready to take the plunge - not just with a purchase but with a migration of all our data (mostly spreadsheets but some Filemaker, SQL Server, Postgres and MySQL databases) to Dabble.
As a database guy I can’t praise y’all enough. The thing Dabble gives me is TIME. I have no trouble creating and managing SQL databases, that sort of thing is easy and fun for me… what’s NOT easy and fun is UI and basic CRUD functionality rolled out to a non-technical user base. I have found with Dabble that my time to implementation has gone down from a week with a typical Postgres/MySQL database with a web front end to a few hours with Dabble. Having a consistent look and feel for my applications and the freedom of not having to create a new UI for every app gives me the ability to roll out more actual apps to my users so they can get things done. As a sidebar I would also say that while I know you are marketing your application toward the spreadsheet user, Dabble DB is an INCREDIBLE tool for data modeling. If I found something I needed to do in MS SQL or Postgres for some reason I would now model the data in Dabble first and then, once I was comfortable with my tables, export out and back into SQL.
Thanks, John, and best of luck with your migration.