Dabble DB is a Web-based application from Smallthought Systems that can help solve one of the modern knowledge worker's most enduring dilemmas by bridging the gap between the spreadsheet and the database.
Spreadsheet applications are excellent tools for ad hoc data crunching. You fire up a new spreadsheet, key or paste in your data and then sort, filter and formulate your way to data analysis enlightenment. Things can turn ugly, however, as those ad hoc spreadsheets put down roots and grow into de facto applications that would be better implemented as databases.
Unfortunately, the structured nature of databases, which requires a lot of planning ahead, tends to mesh poorly with the open-ended mindset of the typical spreadsheet user, resulting in deepening roots for those overloaded spreadsheets.
Enter the aptly named Dabble DB, which combines the structured data entry, distribution and access benefits of databases without surrendering the open-ended usage traits that spreadsheet dabblers prize.
Dabble DB does a good job of importing data and makes it very easy for users to create views of the tables (called "categories" in Dabble parlance) in which their data resides. It's also easy to change the schema of those categories-adding or removing fields and reconfiguring their data types.
The Web-based service won't do everything that a spreadsheet will. For instance, while it's easy to create views that include basic mathematical or text operations, Dabble DB lacks most of the formulas that spreadsheets offer. Given the product's excellent export and import functions, however, Dabble DB can serve well as a complement to your local spreadsheet applications.
For my tests, I focused most directly on the product in its spreadsheet-adjunct role. However, Dabble DB's easy form creation, multiple user support and table relationship capabilities merit evaluation of the product for light database duty, particularly for small organizations with geographically dispersed users.
Dabble DB is priced at $8 per user per month, with a free 30-day trial. There's also a free option for data that's made publicly available under a Creative Commons license. For more pricing information, click here. Holders of paid (or trial) accounts can access their Dabble DB applications over an SSL [Secure Sockets Layer]-encrypted connection.
Users of the service can download a copy of the categories stored on the Dabble servers in the form of comma-separated value-formatted text files, and Dabble takes periodic snapshots of the applications to which users can restore through the service's admin console. It's also possible to trigger application snapshots manually through the same console.
I was underwhelmed by Dabble DB's health status update facilities, which are limited to blog, Twitter and user forum posts following service interruptions or slowdowns. I would prefer to see a dedicated status page for the service.