Catch Some Air(table)

There’s no quicker way to suck the lifeforce out of a room— just mention this word: database.


Unfortunately there are times when such evil things cannot be avoided. A recent project required keeping track of the ins and outs of certain items. Dates, amounts, notes, and sometime even photos would be recorded. A spreadsheet seemed adequate… until it wasn’t.

Airtable offers a cloud-based hybrid database for free.

Wading through records required constant scrolling (or a keeping the Find option permanently open). It became cumbersome after we reached a few hundred rows. We had only just begun, but it was obvious a spreadsheet was not the answer. But a full-on database seemed like overkill, and inventory control software wasn’t really suited to the task. Most inventory management systems assume you will sell Widget X, then reorder, then sell more. We will see Widget X once, then tomorrow it’s Widget Y and so on. The chance of a repeat appearance is almost nil.

Next we tried Airtable. At first glance it appears to be a spreadsheet. But the tool allows you to use database tools to manipulate records in pretty sophisticated ways. Additional views allow you to break free of the spreadsheet if a calendar, form or Kanban-style interface is better suited. Plus collaboration is available, even for the free version. Templates are available for a wide variety of projects— everything from sales contacts to video production.

After about 6 months we’ve been able to keep track of all our Widgets. Over time we have refined our Airtable with additional fields, and downloaded the mobile app to assist with edits on-the-fly. We’re currently working on advanced views to speed up the process of generating our monthly reports. And the best part of all? It’s free!

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