Tim Dietrich

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Airtable: The Database Reimagined

If you've been following my blog for the past several months, then you've no doubt noticed my enthusiasm for, and interest in, a new productivity application called Airtable. I've written about it extensively, I've been using it for a few personal projects (including my redesigned Art Web site), and I've even been using it for a few client projects.

Airtable Defies Categorization

Airtable defies categorization, and I think that's because it combines familiar elements of both spreadsheet and database applications in equal parts. At its core, Airtable is a database solution. And yet it's spreadsheet-like user interface give it the appearance of being a simple spreadsheet application. To fully understand what Airtable is, you should take it for a test drive.

An Alternative To, But Not A Replacement For, FileMaker

In many cases, I've found that Airtable is a good alternative to FileMaker - but it is by no means a true replacement for - FileMaker. Airtable lacks a lot of the functionality that the FileMaker platform provides - functionality that is absolutely essential when developing the types of solutions that FileMaker developers are often asked to develop. For example, there's no support for scripting, no support for generating custom output, and so on.

That being the case, a number of developers (especially fellow FileMaker developers) have asked me what I see in Airtable, and why I find it so appealing, interesting, and fascinating.

There are many things about Airtable that resonate with me. There's the simplicity and elegance of Airtable's Web and mobile interfaces. There's the speed with which you can get a multi-user database setup. There's the well-designed templates that Airtable provides. There's Airtable's ease-of-use and its familiar, comfortable spreadsheet-like interface. The seamless support for collaboration. The amazingly easy-to-use, dynamically generated API. I could go on and on...

Making Databases Available to Everyone

But perhaps the most appealing aspect of Airtable is what it is intended to do, which is to bring the power of databases to everyone. Airtable is a productivity solution designed for knowledge workers, subject matter experts - both technical and non-technical users alike. It fills a need that, surprisingly, has gone unfulfilled for a long time.

In March of this year, John Udell, in an article for InfoWorld titled Wanted: Easy database app dev tools for the Web, wrote: "Building database apps for a workgroup used to be a simple task. All we need is a new, modern set of Web tools to make that task easy again."

What I see in Airtable is that new, modern Web tool that Mr. Udell describes.

Airtable isn't just a Web port of a database application from days past. Instead, Airtable is a complete reimagining of what a database can - and maybe should - be.

Click here to give Airtable a try. You'll be glad that you did.