One cell to rule them all

I'm fascinated* with the potential of spreadsheets cells as the building blocks of programs. They could open General Purpose Computing to the next 1 billion application builders.

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Spreadsheets have outgrown their humble beginnings. They started as an accounting tool. Now they power just about any task and department:

  • lead generation
  • planning marketing campaigns
  • building dashboards
  • converting, cleaning, exporting data
  • managing HR processes (recruitment)
  • tracking inventory
  • creating complex data models

Why? Because they are very simple to use*:

  • They are 2D. It's quite intuitive to use table rows and cols to define program relationships.
  • They are progressive. You can start small and grow data and logic. They are also forgiving, allowing parts of the program to work even when others are unfinished or broken.
  • They're visual. You can add cues about the meaning of cells, like colors and typefaces.
  • They're powerful. Their functions effortlessly perform operations on data, like min, max, etc.
  • They are ops-free. No need to compile or deploy them. They can also be shared with others.

This makes them great to build custom tools that are easy to maintain. Non-techies find programming hard; maintaining applications is even harder. Spreadsheets provide the benefits without those problems.

In fact, if we abstract them, they are already close to a generic program or a computer.
SpreadsheetProgramComputer
FormulasLogicProcessing
Precedents/ dependentsTriggers/ side-effectsI/O
Values (displayed)UII/O
Values (stored)Database/ persistenceStorage

Classic spreadsheets are still behind on things like UI, automation or APIs. They are needlessly ugly and static for today's day and age.

I have started a company to do fix this with others who feel the same pains. We a are building dashdash, an app creator with a spreadsheet interface!

  • we empower end-users as creators, giving them access to modern computation like data & APIs in a spreadsheet;
  • we generate slick shareable web apps giving creators a wider audience for their spreadsheets;
  • we connect creators to catalyze and expand a community of a billion strong spreadsheet users.

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