Tag Archives: join

Eating my own dogfood

Eating your own dogfood There is a story that a president of a pet food company ate some of his own dog food, to show how good it was. I’m not sure how tasty dog food really needs to be, given that dogs are happy to lick their own backsides. But his commitment is admirable. The least we can do as software developers is to use our own software as much as possible. After all, if you don’t use it, how can you expect anyone else to?

In that spirit I have been using my new Easy Data Transform product as much as possible. The biggest project so far has been merging two databases, for a charity that I volunteer at. I created an Airtable database for the charity. But volunteer information was already in a separate CRM. I imported relevant CRM data into Airtable, but the CRM system remained in use for emailing volunteers for a couple of years while I concentrated on Airtable and other tasks. In that time the Airtable database has become a roaring success for the charity. So we eventually decided to retire the CRM system and also use Airtable as our CRM.

Consequently I had to merge the latest CRM data into Airtable. I exported the relevant data from each as a CSV and then proceeded to merge the mailing list tags from the CRM into a new column in Airtable. I also created tables of discrepancies for the charity staff to work through. For example, where the telephone numbers or emails had been added or updated in one database, but not the other.

When I had initially imported the CRM data into Airtable, I had imported the CRM ID record. So those records were easy to match between Airtable and the CRM using a simple join on the ID. However any records added subsequently to Airtable or the CRM did not have matching IDs. So I had to match those by first name + last name or email address. The data was quite ‘dirty’, as is invariably the case with real world data. A phone number may be “0123 456 789” on one system and “01 23456789” on another. A volunteer might be “Chris” in one database and “Christopher” in another. Also some contacts had multiple entries in the CRM system. So this was not a trivial problem.

dogfood.png

You can get an idea of what was involved from the screenshot above. The two pink input nodes are the 2 databases exported as CSV files, the blue nodes are various transforms (joining, filtering, removing spaces etc) and the green nodes are the outputs (e.g. lists of telephone and email differences, lists of people in one database, but not the other etc). Quite a lot of the transforms are just column renames (in future I should probably support renaming multiple columns in one transform).

I think this would have been a horrific task using Excel, SQL, Beyond Compare or any of the other tools I had to hand, amazing tools as they may be for other tasks. But Easy Data Transform performed brilliantly, even if I do say so myself. It was particularly helpful that you could see the whole process step-by-step and backtrack or branch at any point without losing previous changes.

While eating my own dogfood, I found one bug (related to carriage returns inside CSV records) and quite a few minor annoyances. These have now been fixed in the latest release. I also added  a new ‘Compare Columns’ transform, which was really useful for this sort of work. So it was a very useful experience and I really recommend ‘eating your own dogfood’ as much as you can, along with usability testing.

Have you got some data that needs cleaning, merging, de-duping or filtering? Analytics, log files, emailing lists, databases? Of course you do! Why not give Easy Data Transform a try. It is free while it is in beta. Let me know how you get on.

 

 

 

Easy Data Transform

I have been furiously coding a new product. Easy Data Transform. It is a Windows and Mac tool for transforming table and list data from one form to another. Joining, splitting, reformatting, filtering, sorting etc.

easydatatransform

I have been thinking about this product idea for years. In fact I threw together a janky prototype back in 2008. It allows you to perform various operations on a pair of lists.

list-weaver

I used this prototype for jobs such as creating a list of emails of people who had bought Perfect Table Plan v5, but hadn’t upgraded to v6 yet. It worked. But it wasn’t very good. The biggest annoyance was that each operation obliterated everything that came before. Which made it very easy to lose track of where you had got to. And there was no repeatability. It was also limited to lists and it became clear that I really needed something that could also handle tabular data. I never released it.

But the idea has been running as a background process in my brain for 11 years since. And I think I have come up with a much better design in that time. Finally I had mature, stable versions of my Perfect Table Plan and Hyper Plan products out, so I decided to go for it. I am really pleased with how it has turned out so far.

If you aren’t embarrassed by v1.0 you didn’t release it early enough. And so I have cut lots of corners to get this first public version out. The documentation is only part written. I created the application icon myself  in 10 minutes. There is no licensing. The GUI is lacking polish. The website would make a designer cry. But the software seems fairly robust. My 13 year old son wasn’t able to crash it after 10 minutes of trying, despite financial incentives to do so.

I did some market research and spoke to some people who knew a bit about this market. But I deliberately didn’t look closely at any competing products, as I didn’t want to be mentally restricted by what others have done. For better or worse, I want to blaze my own trail. Copying other people’s stuff is a zero-sum game with no net benefit to society.

Most of the things that Easy Data Transform you can do, you can also do in Excel or SQL. My claim is that it is much quicker, easier and less error prone to do in Easy Data Transform. No programming or scripting required. I am hoping that people will be able to start using it within a couple of minutes of downloading it (I plan to do lots of usability testing). Will people pay for that? I hope so. I’m not aiming it at programmers. Perish the thought.

Naming is hard. I came up with some 70 names. Things like ‘Data Hero’, ‘Transform Flow’, ‘Transmogrify’ and ‘Data Rapture’. But the domains were taken, people I asked hated them or there was an existing service or product with that name. So I ended up with Easy Data Transform. It does what it says on the tin.

Why desktop? Surely no-one is writing new desktop apps in 2019? I believe a desktop solution has some real advantages in this market. The biggest ones are:

  • You don’t need to load your (potentially highly sensitive) data on to a third party server.
  • Not having to upload and download (potentially very large) data sets makes it much more responsive.

Easy Data Transform is currently free for anyone to use. You can get it from the super-minimalist easydatatransform.com website. The current 0.9.0 version expires on the 4th August 2019. You will then be able to get another free version. Once the product is mature enough, and if I am convinced there is enough demand, I will release a paid version. The free beta will probably last several months. Please try it and let me know how you get on. I am particularly interested to get feedback from anyone using it for real day-to-day tasks.

Of course the real challenge is always marketing. How to get noticed amongst many competing products. As well as helping to improve the product I am hoping that this extended beta will also help me to get some traction and better understand the market. For example, what price to charge and what trial model to use. Watch this space.