VALUE() function is broken

It has come to light that the VALUE() function is broken.

The VALUE() function is supposed to extract numbers from a string. It’s designed to be used as a simple filtering tool to remove non-numbers from a field. This is how it is documented on the formula field reference page: Formula field reference – Airtable Support

Instead, the VALUE() function does at least 2 completely different things:

  1. The VALUE() function converts certain letters into numbers, and then multiplies those numbers by the closest numbers that it can find! This issue is documented here: Value Formula Returning Numbers not Found in Cell - #2 by CT3

  2. The VALUE() function interprets certain symbols as operators to perform math on all the extracted numbers from a string. This issue is documented here: Interesting discovery: The VALUE() function performs math

We do not know what the complete list of letters & symbols are that cause the VALUE() function to fail, so there is no telling how many different ways this function can fail.

In my opinion, everybody should avoid the VALUE() function. Or at the very least, proceed cautiously when using it.

This comes right on the heels of me losing a lucrative Airtable client because Airtable has not fixed its mobile views. My client’s website depended heavily on Airtable-embedded views — and they charged their clients to access those pages — BUT most of their clients used mobile devices to browse their website (as do the majority of people using the Internet).

But, despite many posts in the forums about this for several years, Airtable still does not offer grouping, filtering, sorting, and searching on any mobile views. So it rendered his website unusable to his clients.

My client even emailed Airtable Support about this, and their response was: “We can see how fully-functional mobile views could be helpful. Thanks for the feedback.”

Airtable thinks they’re filling a bucket with tons of customers, but they’re not paying attention to the hole at the bottom of the bucket which is leaking customers & causing people who were once fans of the product to badmouth the product instead.

I agree that the behavior of VALUE() is not well understood, and poorly documented. However, the documentation doesn’t actually say that the function simply removes non-numbers from a field. The documentation states that the function …

Converts the text string to a number.

The function does indeed convert a text string to a number. It might not convert the text string to the expected number, but that is different from saying that there is a complete mismatch between the documentation and the behavior.

This is a case where a good technical writer could make a difference. A technical writer could have noticed that this documentation didn’t cover any edge cases, and could have gone back to the developer and ask for more details on how the function converts the text string to a number. But, maybe the technical writer wasn’t available at the time or maybe the technical writer was busy with other things at the time and made a judgment call to not investigate this further.

Haha, this is so true! :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:

Yes, I’ve long had issues with the technical writing in Airtable’s support articles, but particularly the formula field reference article.

The majority of the examples that they provide do not have any context, because they only give the outputs of the functions, but they don’t show what the inputs need to be to get those outputs. In other words, there is no context for new users to understand the examples.

For example, when someone types in WEEKNUM({Date}) into one of their formula fields, they will not typically get the number 46 as a result. Airtable should let the users know what {Date} they used in the example.

That’s an easy-to-understand example, but this same problem is repeated across most of the examples in that article, and some of the examples might not be as easy for people to understand as WEEKNUM().

Users need to understand what inputs go INTO the formula in order to get the example output in that article.

Apple does a great job with their FileMaker reference — you can see all of their functions listed on this page, and every function example shows you both the INPUTS & OUTPUTS of each function:

Airtable’s formula field reference differs from many other references in that all functions are documented on a single page. Many other references have a single page per function. When there is a single page per function, the functions tend to be documented in more depth.

I think that this is a design tradeoff. Documenting all of the functions in a single page is faster to create and makes it easier to learn all of the functions, but there isn’t space to include all the details on each function. It is possible to document the functions both ways, but then you are still talking about tradeoffs in the technical writer’s time and resources.

Overall, I think that the formula field reference (and the support website in general) is a much underused resource by most users. While improved documentation will probably help power users, it probably won’t do much for the average users who may not even know what documentation exists.

I actually don’t have a problem with the lack of inputs in most of the formula field reference. I tend to use the formula field reference as a starting point, and then actually run the formula to get any finer details.