Plugins, and expanding the role of third-party developers


#1

It’s fantastic that the Airtable team is so receptive to feature requests. Realistically though, many of the requests now being made are for niche things desired by a small percentage of your userbase.

I see many parallels between Airtable and Wordpress, particularly in how easy it can be for a non-developer to get up and running with a system that does most of what they need.

It’s awesome to have such a robust API that lets you pull information out of Airtable really easily, but I get the sense that what a lot of users are after is a way to do more within the Airtable environment rather outside of it.

I think Airtable is reaching a point a lot of these feature requests could be reacted to faster in the hands of third-party developers.

A plugin library really could have the effect that launching the App Store did for the iPhone. Time and time again I’ve seen users in these forums saying ‘the lack of x feature is the only thing stopping our whole organisation from using Airtable’ and that seems like a shame to me.

My instinct is that the key to success in this regard would be, much like Apple, to created confined spaces to innovate within.

This would let the development resource at Airtable concentrate on:

  • Ensuring full feature parity across mobile and desktop
  • Higher level feature requests such as the ability to link between bases

I would initially give developers four types of plugin that I’d allow them to create:

1. New base view type

Example:

Gantt, which could work for any record with two dates to function as a beginning and end)

2. New field type

Examples

  1. Location (lat-long, address etc)
  2. Time (In pure hh:mm, rather than the time of day)

3. New record view type

This could knock out all requests for designing a page for printing / reporting

Developers could provide off-the-shelf templates, or users could roll their own with HTML/CSS. To keep tighter control, maybe avoid CSS altogether and restrict to Bootstrap and inline styling.

Spaces for where data should appear could work using a shortcode system like Wordpress, something similar to a mail merge, or even something like Zapier’s recipe-building system

4. Base output

This would give developers the ability to export the full contents of any view in a certain format, such as XML, that could be accessed through a HTTP URL.

As the API has a rate limit on records that can be retrieved at once, this would be great for people with multiple hundreds of records in a base that only need to do anything meaningful with the bulk of the data a couple of times a day.

Examples

  • A plugin that would turn a view of products on sale into a Facebook Dynamic Product Advertising-compatible CSV file
  • A plugin that would turn a view of products on sale into a Google Products-compatible XML feed

New view: canvas
#2

I second this recommendation, I would love to see plugins from third parties to speed up the development of Airtable. Unsure if my request would already fit under one of Matt’s four areas, but to b

e able to link records across multiple bases AND/OR create a report / view that can pull data from multiple bases would be an enormous help for me. At this point I am struggling to get some of my clients to move their excel setups to Airtable because they would have to roll every workbook into one massive base - which would be confusing and difficult to navigate, plus raise access/permission issues for them as well.

I know that feature has been widely requested by other users, so perhaps if third party developers were on board we could get that working sooner.


#3

I completely agree. Airtable needs to get on top of this as what counts for printing here is a non starter!


#4

Right.

Airtable really could be the modern day Hypercard if they wanted to be.


#5

Just a note revisiting this as I know I mentioned feature parity in my initial post.

I just got curious about how long some of Airtable’s feature’s have been around.

Form views - 2 years and 2 months (Launched July 2015)
Calendar view - 1 year and 4 months (Launched April 2016)
Gallery view - 1 year (Launched August 2016)
Grouped records - 1 year (Launched August 2016)
Kanban view - 9 months (Launched November 2016)

It’s quite surprising me that none of the hallmark features of Airtable mentioned above are available yet in the mobile app.

Is development of the mobile app diminished to the point of bug fixes only, or are new features being actively developed for mobile?

I use Airtable in my business, but with some of our workers moving from traditional Windows/Mac setup to iPad I’m wondering if we will lose access to some of the great advancements made on the desktop versions of Airtable by switching.


#6

As a developer myself, I totally support this suggestion. I would definitely develop some plugins if there was a platform for it. A bare API to interact with Airtable is not enough, because anything build to interact with it, does it outside of the Airtable itself. Plugins would bring Airtable to the next level.


#7

We’re having this conversation in our company Slack channel currently and are finding a sticking point on adoption of new technologies into our stack is whether they are an “open” or “closed” environment and have a robust developer community library.

It can even be a revenue generating stream for both Airtable and Developers if you want to offer paid-plugins.

Third party plugins/library is the future of expanding your user base to Enterprise-grade customers. The enterprise has such customized processes that not being able to build niche workflows means you’ll never gain their business.

It would be a win-win-win for everyone!