Review: Online databases let you structure and share your data

Organize your information without having to deal with front-end coding

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Coghead

Editor's note: Coghead is no longer in operation.

Coghead is a decent application for putting simple tables of information on the Web, especially if you want to share information with a private group and not the general public. However, it's certainly not the easiest of the group, either to learn or to use.

The application's drag and drop interface wasn't intuitive enough (at least for me) to begin using it without reading the documentation or watching the Webcasts. However, the on-site tutorials are quite good, and by investing a little time following along I was able to create some simple tables fairly quickly.

Creating a Coghead database involves creating a "collection" for each table of data. Each collection automatically generates a form for data entry, which is where I could define my data structure. By dragging and dropping widgets, I could then add elements like text boxes, drop-down selection lists, radio buttons and "action buttons" to my data-entry form.

Going beyond simple tables to define robust data relationships required a more significant investment of time and concentration. (It didn't help that one of the tutorials I printed out must have applied to an older version -- for example, I kept looking for the indicated "i" icon to customize my widget, and it never appeared. I eventually found other instructions on the Web site explaining that I needed to look elsewhere.)

db coghead

Coghead

The ease of dragging and dropping a couple of widgets for a simple, one-table data entry form gave way to more complex, multistep instructions for tasks that should have been relatively simple -- for example, which collection my widget would reference. In addition, it wasn't immediately clear to me how to create a widget where users can select multiple options from a drop-down list during data entry (in Zoho, the choice is a rather obvious "multiselect"). Coghead support advised me to use a widget that added "grids," but that seemed to require deciding on a maximum number of selections based on how many grids I chose.

As a result, this was the only service among the four where I felt the need to print out the user guide and follow along as I did even fairly simple tasks.

Designing a form's look and feel, though, is one area where Coghead shines. It was fairly simple to create various sections on a form, change the sizes of my widgets and decide how many columns to display. The application also offers a great number of options for adding filters and sorting when using a widget.

The experience of using forms for data entry could be better. Changing from editing to using an application first required unchecking an "author" box, but then once the form appeared, I couldn't simply type into it to add a record -- I also needed to click the "new" button. That may sound minor, but when you're developing and testing an application, those clicks add up. Also, after I entered and saved one record, it sat there in my entry form until I clicked "new" again, instead of disappearing and allowing an immediate new entry.

To embed a Coghead application in an existing Web site requires a "Coglet." Although free now, the company says each Coglet will cost $20 per month once the beta period is over.

Overall, I see Coghead as a potentially useful service for a technically sophisticated audience looking to get interactive data applications built while not worrying about hosting, security and servers. However, this is not a service that will bring databases to the masses.

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