Thursday, March 2nd, 2006

Under the Radar: Session 2 – Make It Easy 2.0

Category: Database, Editorial, Office

After four “When” companies got a chance to impress us with their Web 2.0 goodness, four “Make It Easy” concerns are now up to the plate: Dabble DB, Rallypoint, The Form Assembly, and Zoho.

Each company has eight minutes to present their wares. A panel (Michael Arrington, Rael Dornfest, and Krishna Akella in this session) and the audience give feedback for eight minutes.

Dabble DB

The co-founders are up talking to us about their Dabble DB service. It’s a hosted database for the rest of us. Business users know that spreadsheets aren’t the best way to store data, but they feel that databases are “scary.”

They showed a demo of taking a spreadsheet of information from an O’Reilly OSCON from a few years ago. The UI of Dabble DB lets you either import data to create a spreadsheet, or manually enter the data. They cut-and-pasted and CSV export from Excel, and they’re demoing a really neat ajaxian interface for the data — spreadsheet on the web.

They’re also showing ad-hoc queries against the spreadsheet interface, using a simple filter type interface both across all text or specific fields, and you can save the results of queries for later viewing.

They also have a calendar view of database data, where they parse out date-like values and plot them on a calendar — and you can apply the same searches against the calendar view, too. It’s a really fast, compelling interface — better than some of the When calendaring apps we saw in the last session.

They are also demoing schema changes. For example, they make it super easy to take a text field and change that to a lookup table relationship — something that traditional databases make painful, and they also make it easy to migrate other fields to the new lookup table.

They also export data to RSS, PDF, CSV, iCal, HTML, OPML, and text.

The audience was very complementary, and both Michael and Rael on the panel seemed impressed. A great product.


The Rallypoint dude is talking about how hard it is to do effective collaboration in a team environment: you start passing documents around, you lose track of ersions, and before you know it, things are a big soupy mess.

Goal for Rallypoint: combine the features of a word processor with the collaboration features of a Wiki, tied together with an ajaxian user interface.

The demo of adding a new page shows off their word processor interface. It’s pretty much the kind of rich text editing we’ve come to expect from ajax apps without any dramatic differences.

The security features allow you to protect a page, allowing only certain users and groups to view/edit/subscribe to the page.

The versioning features weren’t shown, and there’s no way to export data at present, though they all working on an export feature.

The general consensus from the panel was: “This is a crowded space, good luck.”

The Form Assembly

The creator of The Form Assembly is up, talking about web forms, saying that many websites need web forms for various reasons (registrations, etc.) and up until now there hasn’t been an easy way to get them (riiiiiight).

The product lets you build forms and show reports based on the form data. The UI was pretty nice. I didn’t see anything revolutionary.

The product is free up until you get more than five responses to your form. After that you either pay as you go (12 cents per response) or you buy a $25/month subscription.

Michael Arrington: “Can I massage the data that users enter?”
Answer: There’s a junk filter for removing spam.

The panel thought the pricing was just way off but otherwise seemed to appreciate the product, though not enthusiastically.


Wow, Zoho is a suite of business applications on the web: Writer, Virtual Office, CRM, and, err, more. They’re showing us Zoho Creator, which is for “creating web applications with no lines of code.”

(By the way, thanks to a crash, we’re able to see it was written using Java Struts. Neat.)

You can create applications either by basing it off a template, or creating a new one from scratch. So far, the application is composed of creating a web form.

The form creation is less visually impressive than the other form builders we just saw. In fact, once you actually start using the form you’ve created, the quality of the UI is quite primitive compared to the other Web 2.0 apps we’ve seen. There are some ajax features, but they look tacked on in a really cheesy fashion.

So, they’re done showing features, so it looks like “applications” are just web forms and tables showing the data entered in the web form. Neat. The table viewer of the entered data isn’t as impressive as Dabble DB but does have a few ajax features, like the ability to dynamically change the set of columns displayed, etc.

They showed us their on-ine spreadsheet for just a few seconds, and it looked really cool. I was tempted to think they were showing us an embedded Excel instance as the demo was in IE Windows, but I think it was a pure Ajax implementation. Geez, they also have an Outlook clone, too. So, some of the products look pretty cool but they didn’t go very deep.

Their vision is to be a complete, fully functional MS Office clone on-line. They let you import Excel and Word and other formats into their products.

Michael Arrington: “You guys have a reputation of copying others and being overly aggressive in PR. You need to change that.”
Answer: Some sort of muffled argument refuting the accusation.


There are a lot of really cool emerging database/form applications that make web-based form applications really easy to create. Dabble DB rivaled desktop database front-ends in terms of making it really easy to deal with data. Very cool!

Posted by Ben Galbraith at 1:57 pm

3.6 rating from 47 votes


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Some links would be great!

Comment by SchizoDuckie — March 2, 2006

Dabble DB:
The Form Assembly:

From their website Zoho looks like it has a full suite of stuff. The app builder is kind of interesting.

Comment by Mike Ritchie — March 2, 2006

Thanks for covering the presentation of the Form Assembly (if I get a chance to see you at the conference, I’ll thank you personally). The feedback from the panel was great and right on target, which makes the whole trip really valuable.

Comment by cedric — March 2, 2006

Hope you guys are liking the polls there ;-). The AJAX polls are now available to the public.

Comment by Topper — March 2, 2006

I tried out formassembly yesterday, utter crap.

Comment by davros — March 3, 2006

Way to go DabbleDB! A bunch of Vancouver BC guys.. nice guys too. Really neat product.

Comment by Alexei — March 10, 2006

[…] Na onda do Web Office, aparece mais esse serviço que vai dar o que falar. O Dabble DB combina planilhas e banco de dados na internet, tudo isso de uma maneira muito simples e facil. […]

Pingback by laboratorious.Zer0 » Dabble DB — March 17, 2006

Dabble is nice. Zoho sucks. Also for real hosted businness applications such as CRM and ERP that uses AJAX and RIA componenets; try Netsuite, and to a lesser extent Entellium

Comment by Damsep — May 8, 2006

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