Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Caspio - Cloud Databases - review

Always on the lookout for an elegant and affordable Web form solution, I am trying Caspio today.  I noticed a link at the bottom of the Reader photos submission form on the Marin Independent Journal, California.  The "Created with Caspio" link took me to Caspio.com which had a sign up form for a free trial.

First, I tried the form at the Marin Independent Journal. The form was very simple but let you to upload a photo easily, which was one of the functionalities I had to have.

No credit card required to try. That plus the decent amount of time (14 days for the trial period) enticed me to investigate further.

This service is an online database that allows you to create Web forms and database applications without knowing coding. They provide live chat and phone support. (This tells me it can't be cheap but it might be good.)  The pricing page was one of the top tabs. If I can't find the pricing I give up quickly, so this was nice.  Packages run from $40 to $350 a month with a discount for non-profits and even free personal accounts, plus an enterprise solution. That is a cool range.

Aha! An Information Week pull quote on the left said "Is Caspio the 'Microsoft Access' of the Cloud?"  This made it clearer to me what Caspio is and does. Basically, you can migrate your Microsoft Access to the Cloud. (Cloud has become a proper name, by the way.) Credibility was established with signed testimonials and heavy-hitting clients like Dow Jones, UPS and maybe Julie Vetter Web Consulting...

Signed up for the trial, not too much info needed. Got an immediate login via email taking me to a page with an overview video. Oops, did not work, said to try again later. Maybe because I am in Paris. "Hey, it's not my fault."  There was a link to online help with a searchable knowledge base so I was not out of luck.  Aha, a forum as well. There were polite answers, even to one of the most newbie questions I have seen, "What is this and what does it do?" I had to wonder if they got the account in a gift basket.

Looks like most forum members understand Javscript. Bummer for me. I thought it said fast and without programming. Back in tutorials I see titles like "Table Lookup Filtered by RLS" and "Passing Parameters". Maybe this is optional for power users, but ugh....

image from www.surcouf.com (This sent me off on a little procrastinating foray to check out the Hello Kitty line of high tech toys in vogue lately. I have a Hello Kitty USB hub that is friendly with Windows and Mac. Well, except iPads, which are not friendly to Hello Kitty's hub since they have no USB port.)

Back to the tutorials, "Getting started".  The video started this time, maybe it wasn't me. I like the techie guy who walks you through it. He tells you how long it will take to make your first form with him and shows you what you will get in the end.  A smidgen of Web programming will help, like knowing about not leaving spaces in field names / values ...nevermind, but the narrator is doing a good job explaining technical things at a non-technical level.

I followed along and got my form fields set up including a name, a unique number for each submission, the ability to upload a file, and to send an email to the submitter and to a staff person.

Time for another diversion, checking in on daily food porn from an associate's brilliant site, Paris By Mouth. http://parisbymouth.com/daily-porn-tarte-au-citron-meringuee/

When I returned an email had arrived from a Caspio rep who offered to help me get up and running today. I replied I would take him up on it. Until then, I carried on on my own.

My first form looked just like the one on the Marin IJ. I could not find a preview of the other form styles but you can change even after the form is done and the code is pasted into your Web page by editing the form in your app interface. No need to replace the code, just save and refresh your Web page.

You have the options to embed the form, put it on a stand-alone page, get it in an iframe, and add html headers and footers. Wow, that is pretty spiffy.

I was pleased with the look of the blue style. I was even more pleased with how easy it was to create the code to paste the submission details into a Web page in my admin area as well. The columns are sortable and clicking through to each item's details is an option.  Plus you can export the data to put it in a spreadsheet or your internal database (if you know how, heh).

In conclusion, if Caspio can accomodate my needs and budget as well as Dow Jones', I am tickled Hello Kitty pink!

Unless I don't carry on after the free trial, you can see and try out a form below. Caspio says the form, by the nature of it being embedded, should not attract robots.  A Captcha field can be added if spam does turn out to be a problem. I wonder if spammers ever hire from some deviant form of Amazon's mechanical turks instead using robots?

Hey it even works in Typepad! Although you have to click on it.

Click here to load this Caspio Online Database app.

P.S. The rep called me the next day and gave me a walk through. Caspio's tools are even more flexible and powerful than I had imagined. In conclusion, I would say (even though with their list of clients it does not need my saying) this is an exciting company, which is playing a role in making the Cloud truly viable. Plus, they are willing to offer packages that work for everyone from individuals and non-profits to mega-corporations, making the Web a tidier, more usable place.

Happy Caspio and bon appetit!