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Things to Consider in Online Databases for Non-Developers

Things to Consider in Online Databases for Non-Developers

Some pretty great tools have cropped up in recent years which allow non-developers to create online databases for managing their data. Each of the solutions out there have some similarities as well as their own features and pricing models. On the one end of the spectrum you’ll find Knack. Knack’s online database and web app tools are geared for smaller to medium sized organizations and offers plenty of design flexibility & features at a very affordable cost.

On the other end of the spectrum you’ll find solutions like QuickBase, which offers less design flexibility but tons of bells and whistles needed for large businesses, though at a higher cost. Instead of going through all of these providers, we’re going to walk though the things to consider when looking for a solution to meet your online database application needs.

The Planning Phase

When you begin to think about how your online database application should look and work, you should start out by listing the fields you think you’ll need. You may already have this in a spreadsheet somewhere which is great. You may even be able to use that spreadsheet to setup your application initially depending on the provider.

Walking through the fields your database application will need is a great way to make sure you’ve covered all the necessary items. Think about fields you may need in the future too. While most solutions make it easy to add new fields later, it is usually a good idea to have them in place up front. For example, if your database application allows users to search for events or concerts locally, at the very least you’ll need a field for “event name,” “event location” and “event description.” But, you may also want to include a field for “pricing” and even “category” so that when you begin accumulating enough events, your users can easily filter them.

The other important part of the planning phase is to think through the workflow from your users’ perspective. The end user could be thousands of potential/existing customers or it could be just a couple co-workers in your office. For example, if we use the concert/event example from above, you’ll need a way for users to search by location to find events. You’ll also likely want to allow users to click an event in the search results to see more detail about the event. This means you’ll need to have two “pages” in your app. One page that shows all the search results and another that displays the details about the selected event or concert. If you plan to allow users to submit events, you’ll need an additional “page” to collect that information.

Also, consider any relationships your application may need to have. For example, the event/concert database application may benefit from having user ratings or comments. This requires the ability to establish a one to many relationship with some of your data. Meaning that each “event” can have many comments or ratings. Another example would be a “job listings” application where users can browse available positions and submit an application. Each job listing would need a way to collect many applications so they are associated with the appropriate job listing. Establishing that connection is crucial for a database application like this.

Planning Phase Take-aways:

  • Make sure the solution you choose allows you to easily add fields later if you forget to add them up front. A good way to find out is sign up for a trial and try it.
  • If your database application needs to accommodate “relationships” be sure that your provider can do this. Not all of them do and this should be something you can find fairly easily when evaluating.


Adequate Features & Capabilities

In addition to planning your app, you’ll need to consider some of the capabilities and features offered by the various providers. There are obviously some basic requirements in order for your database application to function. For example, most providers offer tools for adding custom fields, user permissions, importing and exporting your data, and hosting your application somewhere. But, there are other important items to consider as well.

Here are a few questions to consider before choosing a provider.

1. Can I embed my online database anywhere I want or does it only live on the provider’s system?
Many providers allow you to create expansive databases but falter when you want to put it on your site right where you want it. Others allow you to embed an IFRAME which can work, but doesn’t support bookmarking or SEO and also requires additional work to make the application look like it belongs on your site. Other providers give you a code snippet that embeds the application right into your existing site seamlessly and elegantly. This is absolutely the best route if you need it on your site because you or your web designer can make it look like it is just another part of your website. This also allows users to bookmark sections in your app and even provides search engines actual urls to index.

2. Can my database objects be related?
This was covered in the planning phase above but important enough to mention again. Just make sure that if your application needs one to many or many to many relationships, that the provider can accommodate.

3. Is there an API I can use? 
Often times, organizations or businesses already have solutions or software in place that’ll need to talk to new solutions. Having access to an API helps assure maximum flexibility when specific needs arise.

4. Is there security built into the solution so my data remains safe? 
You really shouldn’t even consider a provider that doesn’t have SSL implemented at the very least.

Features & Capabilities take aways:

  • Make sure it’s secure.
  • Make sure you can embed your database on your own site if you need that.
  • Confirm that you can establish relationships within your database application if you need that.


Getting Started

So, we’ve talked about doing some initial planning as well as a covered a few features and capabilities to consider. The final step is to dig in and get started. Searching for online app builder or online database builder in Google should get you a list of providers to look through.

Most providers will offer a trial or free tier that you can use to get your feet wet. When it comes to pricing, they all offer several pricing packages depending on how many records you’ll need to accommodate or how much storage you’ll need. Generally you can start with the cheapest plan to test it out and upgrade if you need to.

Also some providers will offer one-on-one help from english speaking people to help you get things setup. Take advantage of this. While you may think you don’t need that kind of help, save yourself 30 minutes of tinkering and get an answer in 5 minutes from someone who knows the ins and outs.

[This post originally appeared on SiteStrux and is republished with permission.]

Want more on online database solutions? Try taking a look at the exclusive Top 5 Enterprise Data Storage Solutions comparison report.

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Brandon Griggs

Founder at Knack, Knack
Expert in web app and online database app development
Brandon is a 3 time entrepreneur and currently is the founder of Knack - the easy online database and web app builder. Brandon has over 10 years experience with building web apps and online databases.