Needed: A Relational Database for Normal People

By David Coursey  |  Posted 2004-06-29 Print this article Print

Opinion: Is David Coursey's request for a simple database that encompasses many-to-many relationships really that unreasonable?

One of my big unanswered software questions is why no one has managed to make relational databases simple enough for normal—as opposed to normalized—people to use. I cant be the only person on the planet who needs to create a database that encompasses many-to-many relationships, but isnt a professional database designer. Yet, I have not found anything that makes building such an application terribly easy for people like me. For example, when I organize a conference I do a database of the speakers and the sessions. Id like to be able to connect them, showing which speakers are presenting at which sessions. This shouldnt be so hard—when I tell you what I need you understand it immediately. I need a database that can link speakers to sessions and vice versa, allowing each change in one to show up in the other.
Now this is merely difficult if each speaker is only presenting at a single session. Sadly, thats never the case at my events. Linking speakers to multiple sessions has thus far proven more trouble that its worth.
Are you outsourcing your database? Read about its risks. Put another way: I dont think I should have to read a database book or take a class to build the app I need. I shouldnt have to understand the ins and outs of normalization and key fields to make this happen. Handling these relationships is something the database itself should know how to do with limited help from me. FileMaker 7 comes closest, but simple as it is generally, the relationship-building process still requires more database knowledge than most users, even power users, possess. I cant just sit down with an idea for an application and just build it. FileMaker is a fine product, it just doesnt do what I need. Intuits QuickBase is an online software-as-a-service environment that makes building even applications pretty easy. But like all the other databases, when you need relationships things get complex. QuickBase does one-to-many relationships with some difficulty, but doesnt even try many-to-many connections. Next Page: If I were king ...

One of technology's most recognized bylines, David Coursey is Special Correspondent for, where he writes a daily Blog ( and twice-weekly column. He is also Editor/Publisher of the Technology Insights newsletter and President of DCC, Inc., a professional services and consulting firm.

Former Executive Editor of ZDNet AnchorDesk, Coursey has also been Executive Producer of a number of industry conferences, including DEMO, Showcase, and Digital Living Room. Coursey's columns have been quoted by both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and he has appeared on ABC News Nightline, CNN, CBS News, and other broadcasts as an expert on computing and the Internet. He has also written for InfoWorld, USA Today, PC World, Computerworld, and a number of other publications. His Web site is

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