Fun Links 2016-09-23

Many technical people like to come up with overly complicated solutions to problems. Like writing an app that you may only need to use once or twice. Does this sound like you? It certainly sounds like me.

A lot of the time, the reason is to challenge oneself. Or maybe it is because it is just plain enjoyable to procrastinate on real life while learning a new technology. Whatever the motivation, with today’s technology it doesn’t need to be a time-consuming process. More and more “apps” aren’t just big pieces of software written from the ground up. And I’m not just talking about microservices; I’m talking more about mashups and other hybrid applications.

Have you ever found yourself using Google Sheets or Excel to manage a personal collection or otherwise organize things? Or perhaps thought you could use Google Sheets as a simple JSON API? If so you may find Airtable interesting. It sells itself as being simple as a spreadsheet. Essentially it is a nice UI around a set of build-it-yourself databases. The free plan is quite generous and should be more than enough for personal use. There is also an iOS app which lets you manage your data in a very convenient way while mobile. You can attach files/photos to your records through integration with cloud storage providers or directly from your computer or device. It even allows you to expose this data (both reading and writing) via a simple API.

Zapier provides connections between different services and products which may not otherwise have them. It is a bit like a hub for integrations. You can create “zaps” which trigger based on something happening in one service (e.g. a Github PR) and then perform an action somewhere else (e.g. send a tweet). The free plan allows for simple one-to-one zaps, or you can pay for more complex workflows. The integrations available are quite extensive and target the productivity and business space. In particular, it has integrations with Airtable allowing you to trigger actions based on changes being made to your data or adding new data based on events elsewhere.

If This Then That is another service offering to perform actions on one service based on triggers from another. The service is free. However, the integrations seem to be geared more toward personal use and focus on the Internet of Things (IoT) space. Like you could set it up so that an email from a particular address might turn on your lights in your house. I think there is a lot of potential for this type of simple orchestration, if for no other reason than the geek factor.

Written by Colin Bate