I joined a choir of old fogeys and it seems I’m the most technically competent. No big surprise there then! There are many people of my age who have no interest whatsoever in computers. In the choir there are at least two couples who share an email address. They are not sufficiently into the tech world to have an email address of their own. Still living in a previous century or millennium. When you have a group of 65 people and you need to communicate effectively it’s a good idea to use a database. This came about when organisers of the group needed to find out who were going to be able to attend an event. They also needed to know if they planned to take food afterwards. One of the questions we needed to deal with was if a bus was going to be required. Obviously there are drinkers in the group who don’t want to drive. Good plan, I hate drinking and driving. It was extremely tedious and annoying to try and do this with asking the questions in an email. We needed a solution to this problem.
Google Spreadsheet vs Airtable
My first idea was to use the forms available in Google documents. It seemed like it would work to have a spreadsheet table. The form would dump the information into the right places within the spreadsheet. It didn’t take long for me to find out a plain old spreadsheet wasn’t really going to do it as far as data organisation was concerned. People were filling the form in more than once and corrupting the data. Or it was possible for them to fill in the form and for us to not know who had filled the form in. It’s for this reason I decided to jump into Airtable which is available on the Mac and also for iOS. You can also use a browser-based version. On the whole, Airtable is highly configurable and easy-to-use. The feature set is not the same on all platforms though. Can’t make forms in the iOS apps for example.
Learning Airtable on the job
So I have been learning as I go with Airtable. It wasn’t difficult to set up the initial table or base as they call it. I could then add other tables to give me the specific forms. It did take me a while to work out how to make it so form fillers could only choose from the list of names on the form. I was also able to make it a required field. No chance of someone filling the form in and not letting us know who they are. To make sure you have database integrity it’s best to have specific pieces of information in just one place. With Airtable you can use Look up fields to use the data from where you have put it in the base. If a piece of information is possible to add in two places, how do you know which one is the most up-to-date or the correct one?
Airtable Is Easy-To-Use
Airtable is easy-to-use and yet at the same time quite powerful. The professional database features don’t get in the way of you putting your first database together. Like most things it’s a good idea to start simple and work your way up piece by piece to more complicated setups. Fortunately, there are a good number of Airtable tutorial videos available on YouTube. These are available from Airtable themselves and also from third parties. A combination of both of these sources and you have more than enough to make a really good database.
It’s still not all plain sailing with my choir database
I’m still running into an inability to collect all of the data. This is nothing to do with the usability of the forms from Airtable. It’s all to do with cantankerous old men and women who can’t be bothered to fill in forms. The only way I find around this issue, is to go and speak to the individuals concerned and asked them directly for the information. I have to fill in the form for them. I still can’t work out why it is some people are averse to technology. The usability of software and hardware has improved over the years. It’s not necessary to be scared of breaking the computer. There’s no need to worry your soul or mental well-being is going to be compromised by using the latest technology. Being Good and Geeky is possible at any age if you’re prepared to open your mind to the tech world.
Import the Data from Google Spreadsheet
I started off by importing the data from the Google spreadsheet. I was then able to work on the field type for each of the pieces of information. There are a lot of field types available to take account for all sorts of data. You can have pictures, checkboxes, multiple selections, various forms of number and text fields and you could even include barcodes.
Sorting and grouping the data
I like the way that you can create different views of the same base. For example I have the main view which shows all members and then I can have a view which shows just the tenors or just the sopranos. You can view the data sorted in various ways or split into groups. I found it easier to set up views showing just tenants or just sopranos because of the way I set up the information in that particular base. The choir members could choose multiple options in the job field. For that reason it didn’t lend itself well to showing in groups. It’s not a problem though because Airtable shows me the information by creating separate views.
One of the best things about our table was the ability to use it for collaboration. I was the person in charge of the database and I gave other people access to the database on a read-only basis. This meant the people organising various events could see the data which had been collected. I didn’t allow them to jump in and edit it in any way. It was safer that way.
Sharing the Forms
The forms I was able to share in a number of ways. I could just share a link for the members to go to a webpage provided by Airtable to fill in the form. I was also able to embed the form into the choir website. The forms do have the Airtable branding unless you go for the paid version of the software.
Airtable Is Free to Use
To get started with Airtable it is free to use. For many people the free to use facilities would be enough. I got credits from Airtable for introducing other people to the database. These were the people who I added as collaborators.