Spreadsheet is one of the must-have tools for today’s working environment. People use it to organize anything and everything, from the simple two-column shopping list to the complicated multi-sheet multi-file company budget. But at least one usage does not go well with a spreadsheet: data organization. A better solution to manage and organize complex data is using a database.
The reason why many spreadsheet users don’t want to touch a database is the “scary and complicated” image people have about it. Fortunately, there’s Airtable – a modern cloud-based relational database with a simple spreadsheet approach that can help you organize almost any data. It allows collaboration so you can work on a database with your co-workers, and it syncs across devices via browser and mobile apps to keep the data up to date.
If you are familiar with Microsoft Access on Windows or Filemaker Pro on Mac, then you’ll have nothing to worry about because Airtable should be easier to use. For those who are new to the database concept, Airtable provides you with step-by-step guides and a video tutorial to keep you up to speed.
Start Quickly with Templates
The only thing that you need to do to start using Airtable is sign up for a free account. It comes with unlimited bases and unlimited collaborators, with the limit of 1,200 records per base and 2GB attachment space per base. There are paid upgrade plans for those who need more, but the free plan would be more than enough for most personal users.
To help you start as soon as possible Airtable provides you with templates. After the signing up process, it will ask you to choose the minimum of three database usage examples. The options available range from project tracker to lemonade stand inventory, from blog editorial calendar to wedding planning.
For those who are not familiar with the database, the quickest way to start is to use the existing examples and modify them to your needs. Open one of your chosen examples, and take a look around to familiarize yourself. But if you are a veteran, you can go straight to creating a new database by clicking the “Plus (+)” icon.
As an example, let’s open the Study Guide database. This one is customized to help students keep track of their studies. The deceptively simple spreadsheet interface is hiding many powerful features. You can add and customize rows and cells to your needs, insert media as attachments in an individual row, add and delete tables to track other school subjects to study, add customized views, and more.
But instead of explaining them one by one, it’s better if you try them out by yourself and get the feeling of how everything works. To help you click the colorful circles at the bottom-right of the screen, and they will show you the steps to achieve something.
For example, you can input your data using a form instead of spreadsheet cells by clicking the “Expand” icon next to the row number.
You can also create a custom form that you can share with your friends, and their input will automatically populate the database. To do that click “Main View,” and choose “Form.”
Then customize the form, and click “Share.” You will get a link that you can share with others. Using the Study Guide example above, we can use form sharing in a study group where every member can contribute to a subject.
Using Airtable instead of desktop database applications has several benefits, such as:
- It’s in the cloud so everything is hosted and backed up without you having to do anything. Your data is always safe and accessible as long as you can connect to the Internet.
- It supports multi-user, so you can collaborate with others in populating your data and accomplish more in less time.
- It’s intuitive and easy to set up. New users can start in no time without having to waste time with a learning curve.
- It’s customizable with many field types to choose from. You can create virtually any database according to your needs.
- It’s browser-based so you don’t need to download anything. It’s also fluid and can be opened anywhere and there’s an iOS app (and the beta version for Android) for those who work using their mobile device.
- It supports integrations with tons of other apps such as Evernote, Slack, Pinterest, Twitter, Asana, Dropbox, Pocket, Instagram, and many more.
And the biggest question from novice users is why should they use a database instead of a spreadsheet. The simple answer is a database is more fit for organizing a large amount of data, while the spreadsheet is better if you do many calculations.
This quick overview of Airtable is barely scratching the surface of what it can do. My suggestion is to go ahead and try Airtable. It’s free. Then share your thoughts and opinion in the comments below.