How often does AirTable add features? Should I move on?

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5 - Automation Enthusiast
5 - Automation Enthusiast

Hey All,

I’m curious how often Airtable actually rolls out updates? I know it’s a smaller company, but it seems like several of the “product requests” that have been posted many times, are now several years stale. Anyone have any insight if we’re likely to see these features added? How often are they adding features & rolling out updates?

The specific features that are bugging me today are:

  • Multi-page Page Designer
  • Customization of forms (section headers, better layout options, etc)
    Obviously everyone has different needs, and I’m sure the AT team is doing what they can. I’m just curious about their process.

I ask for two reasons:

  1. I really like the basic product here, but if it doesn’t continue to grow, I can do all of these things in other, cheaper products.
  2. I see a lot of pushing towards outside developers to use the API to build additional features. That’s cool and all, but I’d like to think that Airtable would be incorporating the best features into its core services, rather than letting outside devs have all the fun & profit. I’d rather pay a few bucks more to one company, than to manage a web of connected products, operated by different developers.

All thoughts welcome.


8 Replies 8

Whether it’s fun or profitable, it’s not ideal for the core customers who have found Airtable and use it BECAUSE it’s largely a code-free solution. There are some ceilings and a number of less-than-ideal design choices, but it clearly resonates with users who just want to work with data and get work done.

I have a sense that many who love Airtable are IT’s disenfranchised; workers who have been marginalized or flat out ignored and partly perhaps because of the mobile revolution. Whatever the case, in this day and age, if you want something done, you take it into your own hands and Airtable certainly appeals to self-starters and doers.

I’m an “outside”, third-party developer. I have a pretty good day job at Stream It and I build techie AI crap for a living. However, with my deep perspective of democratized database systems (dBase II, 1980 and everything since), I can understand why Airtable is so attractive.

I can’t answer the growth rate question; haven’t been using it for more than a year - perhaps the Airtable team can chime in. But I must point out that I don’t see any movement on many of the very old product suggestions that are - in my opinion - critical features.

Color me worried (whatever color that is).

Actually, there are two key dimensions to this comment. Using the API to compensate for missing features and/or design choices that were poorly thought out is very different from integrating Airtable with other systems.

#1 - The API is weak. There is no support for events or webhooks and there are gating issues concerning rate limits. In that sense, it is incomplete and immature.

#2 - We live in an API economy. Do not expect every cool feature - however they may have been prototyped - to become candidates as new features in the core product. Some ideas should forever live in API-land.

And there’s a third aspect of feature compensation that I have noted in this forum - the use of insane and complex workarounds to overcome the lack of simple and elegant features that are typically well understood in the world of sheets and no-code databases. Twelve-level nested IF() statements are regularly flung around here like they’re a smart thing to do - and I’ve created some of them because I was bored with Sudoku. :winking_face: In reality, they lead to maintenance nightmares and long-term atrophy when a new hire has to take on the responsibility of whack-a-doodle data design.

Airtable’s future former customers are the businesses whose power-users have developed very complex workarounds. They are simply unsustainable in a climate where workers are fluid. When new features emerge will they get refactored? Probably not - no one ever repays code debt.

In my view, there’s a place for Airtable practically in every business and for every person. But, given its obvious constraints and limitations, adopters have a greater duty to assess and decide where this technology is best utilized.

Within the last year I interviewed with Airtable, and got a chance to visit their San Fancisco office and speak with some of their developers.

I can tell you that they are working on big feature additions which, frankly, I thought would be rolled out by now. I can’t really speak to what they are and how many or which of the feature requests on the forums they would address. But I can tell you they have plans and are working on what seems to be big stuff.

I get the sense that 1) they are a small dev team, and 2) they are very careful and slow about releases to ensure that when they release something, it is deliberate, directed, and as free of bugs as humanly possible. That philosophy sort of flies in the face of many modern SaaS companies that are rolling out features daily, moving fast, breaking things, and apologizing later. Given the data-centric nature of Airtable’s SaaS, it’s probably a good thing that they move as slowly as they do. Although, there’s no denying that it’s frustrating to go month after month with no major or exciting feature additions.

But, like I said, I think they are working, and working hard, on a big project that is important to them and their internal road map – but it doesn’t necessarily directly address the feature requests on the forums; or at least not in a way one might expect.

In my view, this is very good to hear.

I don’t want them to address “feature” requests per-se. Rather, I believe Airtable would do far better if its architecture provided abstract ways to expand capabilities without requiring every nuance of the platform to be coded by their small development team.

Your comment intimates that perhaps they are addressing feature requests by providing an infrastructure that unleashes deeper customization which itself affords feature expansion by users through extensibility.

Example - they don’t need to build every imaginable function into the platform. Rather, add a scripting environment that supports three ideas:

  1. The ability to create custom functions;
  2. The ability for custom functions to call other functions;
  3. The ability to install function libraries into a base and scope them across multiple bases.

If they do this, every single – gee, I wish I had thisFunction(). – product wish would be addressed, even for functions that have never been imagined in the history of mankind. :winking_face: Best of all, the developers would have more time to work on the really important shit.

As I said here -

Blocks (and other forms of plugins) represent the primary avenue to product extensibility, and no unicorn has ever sustained unicorn status without delivering an extensible product. Without extensibility, developers and power-users often hit ceilings and lose interest. Without passionate power-users to champion your product, customers aren’t drawn in so easily.

… :hammer:

When I evaluated AirTable earlier this year for my company, I was initially very excited about it, but the lack of product extensibility options completely killed it as a possible solution. It had so much of what we needed, but with no viable options to extend it that extra 10 miles to the finish line, I had to step away, disappointed.

I just came back to do some research on Embed Blocks, in case that new functionality represents a potential solution to the extensibility problem, but unfortunately embed blocks are pretty limited.

Airtable is a pretty amazing product, but for advanced solutions it is extremely hobbled by its limited customization options.

I hope that they are working on changing that.

Indeed, I agree - this is my finding as well.

Anyone can build some pretty smart web apps and use the API, but the disconnect is significant because embedded web apps lack any context to the user’s interaction with the adjacent tables. This constraint - and this constraint alone - rules out blocks running web apps as a potential pathway for extensibility. Beyond a web-based search engine, embed blocks are almost worthless.

If you don’t mind using a 3rd party solution, we’ve built a form for Airtable that supports this feature. It allows you to make a form that has section headers.

Miniextensions forms are terrific. And Miniextensions itself is very reasonably priced.