This past week I have been beta testing the soon to release, Dabble DB. Dabble DB is a powerful web-based system that lets you store and manage just about any kind of information and share it over the web. The way it works is much like a Database Management System, such as phpMyAdmin, except a whole lot more inviting and user-friendly because of the easy to use structure, beautiful user interface, and the use of terms that the average person can understand. The idea is that you create your own applications storing information the way you want and viewing it the way you want. My first feelings of the service was honestly pretty intimidated but after viewing the LispVan Video and making my first application, I became comfortable and aware of just how powereful Dabble DB can get. Imagine creating an application for just about anything at all. Create your own todo list, bookmark manager, project management system, etc.. You can make it all yourself with Dabble DB. There is a lot to go over, so lets get started!
I was very excited when I received the beta invitation and signed up right away. You signup just like any other service, but you also get your own sub-domain along with it (you.dabbledb.com), so make sure you know what you want to call it first. Once I created my new home at Dabble DB, I was directed to the main Applications page, which will show a list of all your applications. When it is your first time, there will not be any applications, but to get you started, Dabble DB gives you instructions on creating your own and also provides a few pre-made applications that you can choose from. So, lets start off by creating an application. An application can be anything that you want really that involves the storing of information. As you can see, I have created applications for a todo list, bookmarks manager, and a work application to store projects and my work hours. If you know database management, you can picture an application as a new database that you can create tables in and store the information. Except with Dabbled DB a new database is called an Application, tables are Categories, and data are entries. These terms are much more understandable for the average person. After you create your application, you will be asked to create a category. For example, I created an application, Todo, and a category, Tasks. Also note that you can create multiple categories in your application which helps you build a pretty advanced application and definitely increases the capabilities with Dabble DB.
Once you have created an Application and a Category for the application, you now create the structure of it and add entries to it. This is where it gets interesting. Dabble DB makes it very easy for you to create a create a structure for your application that allows you to store the information the way you want. You can add as many fields as you want with up to seven different data types. At default, a field will be set to the data type of plain text, but you can change this once the field is created. You can create fields with data types of text, number, money, date/time, choices (selection list), and also two types for linking to another category or listing of entries in a category (confusing at first). For my todo application, I wanted to store the date, status, priority, project, and finally additional notes. What I liked was that you really aren’t limited to only those data types because each type has secondary options to make it exactly how you want it. For example, the type text allows you to select the amount of lines you need so really it could make a text area. You can also choose if the text type is for a web address, email address, or even street address.
Eventually, once all your fields are created and you start adding entries to your application, you can end up with something similar to the above, which is my Todo application. You will notice that my data is split up in a nice looking table showing me exactly what I need to see how I want to see it. I also have it group tasks by completion so I can easily see what ones are incomplete or completed. This is all possible by what Dabble DB calls, Views. Views are a little difficult to explain, but I will try to explain clearly. You can have a view in the format of a table or calendar. Every field that you store you can easily pull up into a view and show it how you want and where you want it. In the table format, like you see above, I have added the fields I want to see in my view which adds the field as a column in the table. You can then choose to sort and other options on any field by clicking on its heading and selecting from the options available, which you can see in the screenshot. So, for my example, I added all columns and decided to group the status field resulting in a nice organized table splitting up the completed and incompleted tasks. So, in short, a view allows you to show any data that you store in your application in a nice organized structure the way you want to view it.
I also mentioned that you can set a view to a calendar format. Above is an example application that Dabble DB has created that uses a calendar format. The view will automatically place your data on the calendar depending on if you have a date/time field. It will then will show a maximum of five entries on one day and provide a link to view all the rest if there are more then five. The calendar view also allows you to easily add data to any date, browse through months, and skip to specific days.
I also have to mention that you are not limited to one view. You can save as many views as you want under any category. When you hover your mouse over the category name on the top menu, it will drop down a list of your views for it. You can save any view that you create, rename it, perform a “save as” to duplicate it, and of course, remove them. Being able to save views is excellent. For example, for my todo application, not only can I view all my tasks sorted by completion, but I can also view them in a calendar format, sorted by project name in a table, and more all saved how I want making it easy for me to get back to. The views really make it feel like you created an application of your own.
Something that really impressed me with Dabble DB were all the import/export options. You can import any Excel document (xls), Comma Seperated Values (csv), and even vCard formats (vcf). I tested the Excel importing and it worked perfectly. But, what I liked even more were all the options for exporting your data. You can grab an RSS feed for a view of your application, save it as an PDF, CSV, ICAL, HTML, and even OPML. Now that’s a lot of options. Definitely a major plus and especially when you can export any view from any application. So, if you want to make a backup, save it as a CSV because Dabble DB can import that format. I’m not trying to be greedy or anything though, but what about Excel format? Just wondering because you can import it, but you can export to it.
So, lets sum this up. You can create an application, have multiple categories, as much data as you want to store how you want, create views to view data how you want, and even export it in six different formats. That is pretty powerful, but there is more. You can even share your applications with anyone you want. That’s right, these can be collaborative database/applications so anyone can use your application. All you have to do is open your application, go to the sharing options and fill in the email addresses for anyone you want to share with. You can give them access to read and write (manage anything in the application) or just read only (only able to view the application). This is excellent. Working with a team on a project? You can make a project management system. Give employees read and write access and clients read only access. Sure, there are many more examples I can give, but that one seems to explain the possibilities.
That about sums up my review. I didn’t go over everything because there is just way too much to talk about. I suggest taking a look at the LispVan Video so you can see most of it in an easy to follow presentation. Now for my final thoughts on Dabble DB. I liked being able to select the type, Web Address, for text data types. But, I would also like to see that if you have a normal text format and type in a URL, it would auto link it. I can see this useful in todo lists, notes, etc.. Another thing I would love to see is for Number data types that you can insert some form of formulas, like in Excel. I was making an application to organize my working hours and figured, it would be really neat if I can insert a set amount to find the total earned for the hours worked. Then on top of that, calculate a tax estimate out of my earnings for each entry. Other than that, I don’t really have any feature suggestions or problems. I did not come across any errors at all and everything worked very smoothly (very impressed). Another thing that I really loved seeing throughout Dabble DB was the use of undo functionality. For example, if you deleted an entry or removed an application by mistake, just click on the undo link. I haven’t seen this type of functionality used in a web application before and I really found it useful. It is not available at all times though, only when a change is made – which is a good thing, in my opinion.
Dabble DB is currently in Beta and are beginning to pass out invites. So, go signup to the mailing list for the notification. In my opinion, Dabble DB is definitely a service to get excited about.