I’ve used Trello for years, and then discovered Notion, which was more flexible with view configurations.
Then when I started collaborating on my musical Snowflakes in SoCal! with our Music Director, I tried AirTable because it treats non-text fields (e.g. sound attachments) with more respect than Notion does. Ever since then, as I discuss on a forthcoming podcast appearance on Chris Dancy’s “Off the Record”, I’ve been going hard on AirTable (according to Chris).
But I’ve had a niggling feeling in my mind for a while: won’t my boards just get stuck in AirTable like my Trello & Notion projects are?
Admittedly as Chris pointed out in the interview, AirTable aren’t at early Facebook levels of literally not letting you even export your data. They do let you export data as csv (though as far as I’m aware that is only per view, perhaps there is some account level full export?).
I didn’t wanna dwell in this on the pod to bring the vibe down, but I still have some serious misgivings.
With AirTable, the data is only half (or less) of the picture.
Most of your time is spent on configuring around that data: simple metadata like Field Types, the relationships between tables i.e. a full-picture of the database, but most uniquely the View Configurations (the sorts, filters etc. to create each given View).
I would love for that effort not to go to waste if I switch with brand’s product I house my data in.
Here’s info on their so-called “metadata API”: airtable.com/api/meta.
Firstly, it’s not complete:
Not only does it contain nothing about view configuration (i.e. the sorting & filtering you do to create each view). They haven’t even updated their view types to include the latest view (Gantt):
There is a legacy form for requesting access to this limited API: airtable.com/shrWl6yu8… ￼ But at the end you get this charming message:
￼ In short, AirTable are acting like a closed shop on the metadata level - which is where the action is happening for their product!
So I’ve been waiting for an open source version to come around with fully open APIs.
And this week, voila: NoCoDB launches to acclaim on ProductHunt.
AirTable (& its Consultant Community) clearly see it as a threat because they flagged my question-sourcing post for the founder in the AirTable Community as Spam:
Today I chatted over Zoom with Naveen based out of India.
He reckons they’re 3 months off core feature parity with AirTable, and based on the demos I believe that, though I remain to be convinced if they’ll do web embeds.
Their business model will be to open-source and monetize through hosting like Wordpress, and I believe they will follow a similar trajectory of becoming market leader because they will be cheaper for enterprise.
To follow the analogy, if they stay as closed as they are, AirTable & Notion will end up like Website Builders - small market share but huge profit margins because focus on user-friendly & support - and NoCoDB or a similar open-source will be like Wordpress with whole ecosystem of hosting & consulting. AirTable can either be GoDaddy - failing to innovate - or Squarespace - innovating to have the best UI, but still a closed shop.
This isn’t to say that I’m bailing on AirTable any time soon. Like I say in the pod, I’m banking on AirTable as part of my tech stack for the next 2 years.
They’ve shown the aptitude to be ahead of the curve, so they might be able to outbuild NoCoDB in terms of the front-end customization tools (like Softr and Pory) which SavvyIndie creatives are yearning for! They would also do well to strengthen offline backup to at least make people feel their (meta)data is secure & accessible if it is going to be in their silo.
But they can’t delude themselves into thinking they can create a monopoly with a technology as vital as relational databases. It’s data geeks who use it. We want to own our (meta)data!
Unless they switch up their philosophy and show a commitment to interoperability soon, they will be relegated to a minor player in the very space they helped pioneer.
Come on AirTable, be true to your name and let our (meta)data breathe. We’ll feel more confident investing our craft in your product, and pay for your features if you continue to innovate!