Spreadsheets are the general weapon of choice to organize, store and analyze data. Airtable is a cloud collaboration service that gives spreadsheets the features of a database, which adds a layer of sophistication. It allows business owners to decentralize and organize their records in an actionable and simple manner.
Airtable is a jack of all trades when it comes to record keeping. It’s intuitive yet can support complex use cases. I’ve used it to track meals, maintain a contact list and as a backend for test development. With this diversity of use case it has the potential to be an asset for any type of business or even for personal use. It has many different aspects that make it powerful; features of a spreadsheet and relational database, and amazing extensibility.
Airtable has several features that make it powerful. My personal favorite being the connection of records. This has been the big selling point of Databases, you can create relationships between tables to keep your data more organized and segmented. This may seem like an incremental step, but it offers flexibility and reusability. For example, the sample project management tool above. In the project management tool, Airtable creates friendly dashboard like views that connect projects with clients and store non traditional data like images all in the same plce. By looking at one row you have access to the pertinent information for your product. How much more effective does it get? This might seem like a small step until it’s considered that data discovery becomes a non issue.
Finally, Airtables block system makes it extensible with very practical tools. Imagine you need to integrate a program that can send out mass emails… Airtable has a block for that. You can use blocks to do a wide variety of things; generate forms that correspond to your fields, get in contact with your customers through text or email, translate foreign languages, visualize data and more. Blocks changed my mind about Airtable by giving my bases functionality far beyond a spreadsheet. Instead of limiting your data to the formulas available in excel, create a full workflow that automates the process. Airtable has turned month long projects into one day builds with its block system. This is the feature I am most impressed with, because it builds on the core functionality of the service well.
Airtable is a unique tool that exposes less technical users to the power of databases. While there are a lot of upsides to this tool, there is a bit of learning curve that comes with it. That being said, I’ve found the tool to be quite intuitive. The simplicity with which this is designed has made it remarkably easy to get good fast and build more complex projects with this technology.
One use case that I have found to be very interesting has been using it as a personal contact book. I’ve built a simple version that lets me search my contacts and created a system to organize them based on several factors. What I found to be the best part of this project was the development speed, the time it took to actually make what I imagined. It didn’t require building for hours, instead I sat down and finished before my coffee got cold. I’ve extended it with a form so I can fill in the fields and keep moving. With certain email distributors like Send Grid this can be extended even further to automate email.
Through my time experimenting with Airtable I’ve found it to be a simple yet powerful. This is the ultimate compliment for a tool that makes building on the web more accessible. The future is online and that the next decade will allow non technical software developers to shine. While that may seem like a paradox, over the last five years tools have been created that are removing the barriers to entry to building on the internet. This will allow the best creators to build products on the web without hiring developers. Airtable is the tool that will become synonymous with the movement towards a more creative internet and economy.