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What is Airtable? When to use it and when to avoid it

What is Airtable? When to use it and when to avoid it

Airtable is a popular tool for managing and organizing data across your business processes. However, its effectiveness is greatly influenced by the specific requirements and conditions of your business. While it’s an ideal choice for many use cases, it isn’t always the best fit for every scenario.

Read on to find out everything you need to know about Airtable, including what it is, how it works, and when to use or avoid the software. We’ll also tell you more about Baserow’s powerful no-code database and why it’s the best alternative to Airtable if you’re dealing with large and complex datasets.

What is Airtable

What is Airtable?

Airtable is a cloud-based project management tool that blends a traditional spreadsheet with the robust features of a database. It allows businesses to organize their workflow, data, and records in a flexible and visually appealing way without the need for any coding.

The software can be used to manage a range of tasks such as project planning, customer relationship management, or personal tasks and to-dos. It expands beyond regular spreadsheet functions to include an array of features such as rich field types, customizable forms, collaboration features, and a variety of integrations with platforms like Dropbox, Slack, and Jira.

Users can personalize how data is displayed with various view options like Grid, Gallery, and Calendar, as well as advanced filtering, sorting, and grouping features. As a relational database, it also offers the ability to connect related content across tables, preventing duplicate data entry and enhancing the collaborative experience by allowing users to tag, message, and share content across teams.

Airtable’s features and benefits

Customizable templates and forms

Setting up your first Airtable database can be complex, however, the platform provides a wide range of pre-built templates to help you get started easily, from personal planners to business themes such as product planning, project management, content calendar, and more. In addition, Airtable forms can be used to collect data and can be embedded on websites or shared via a link.

Collaboration features

Airtable features a range of collaboration capabilities that allow users to assign tasks, share project statuses, tag and comment, and record activity history. It also makes it easy for teams to find and share relevant data, assign permissions to collaborators, and define various roles and levels of access.

Record linking

As a relational database, one of Airtable’s standout features is in creating connections between data across tables. This feature allows users to connect related data across different tables, thereby reducing redundancy and also ensuring that data remains consistent and accurate across your database.

It also unlocks powerful functionality, like creating lookups and referencing data from connected tables.

Integrations and automation

Airtable offers native integrations with various apps such as Dropbox, Google Drive, and Slack—and through services like Zapier, it can connect with hundreds more. This extends further with automation, allowing users to set triggers based on specific changes or inputs, enabling automatic actions such as sending notifications, updating records, or even initiating workflows in other integrated platforms.

Airtable API and scripting

For developers, the platform provides a well-documented API to extend functionality and a scripting block for running JavaScript directly inside Airtable.

User access controls

Users can control who can see, comment on, or edit a given database or table. This includes options for read-only access, comment-only access, and full editing rights.

Flexible views

Airtable allows you to view your data in different ways. Grid view, which is the default view type, is a spreadsheet-style view that’s similar to Excel and Google Sheets. There are also other view types, like Kanban view, Calendar view, Gallery view, and even create a custom Form view. This flexibility helps tailor the data presentation to specific use cases based on the data and the people working with—or consuming—the data.

Airtable features and views

How to use Airtable

To begin using Airtable, you’ll first create a “base” (short for “database”), which is somewhat similar to creating a workbook in spreadsheet applications like Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets, Zoho Sheet, LibreOffice Calc, etc. A base contains a table (or multiple tables), which is similar to sheets in Excel. Start by selecting a template tailored to your needs, like content planning or CRM, or start from scratch with a blank canvas.

Once inside a table, you can add records, or rows, of information. Each column, or field, in your table defines the type of information you can store—text, numbers, dates, checkboxes, and even attachments. Airtable offers the ability to create linked records, so rather than duplicating data across tables, you can link records between tables, creating a relational database structure.

To visualize your data, use different views like Grid, Calendar, Gallery, or Kanban. Filters, sorts, and group functions allow you to further customize how you work with your data. As your workflow evolves, you can integrate it with other apps or automate tasks using built-in automation and third-party integrations like Zapier.

Understanding Airtable’s terminology

This list of terms will help you better understand what Airtable is and its different features and functionalities:

  • Base: A base is a collection of related tables, reflecting a single project, process, or workspace.
  • Table: A table is similar to a worksheet in Excel. Each table contains a list of items (like a list of contacts, inventory, tasks, etc.) and each item has its own row.
  • Record: A record is a single item or entry in a table, represented as a row. For instance, in a table of contacts, one contact would be one record.
  • Field: A field is a category of information that you track for each record, similar to a column in a spreadsheet. It can contain different types of information, like text, numbers, checkboxes, dates, etc.
  • View: A view is a particular way of looking at a table’s records. For example, you can have a Grid view (spreadsheet-like), Form view (to collect information), Calendar view (to see records with dates), Gallery view (to view records as cards), and Kanban view (to manage workflow).
  • Blocks: (now called Apps) are extra pieces of functionality that can be added to a base. They range from charts and maps to time tracking and sending SMS messages.

What is Airtable used for?

Airtable has an impressive feature set, and its effectiveness will depend on the specific needs and context of your project or organization. It’s used across various personal and business scenarios such as content management, project planning, budget tracking, and more.

However, it’s important to note that while Airtable is versatile, it has limitations. For example, it’s not ideal for handling large datasets, it doesn’t offer the ability to self-host, and its integration and automation capabilities are not as extensive as other no-code platforms.

Airtable’s proprietary and cloud-only nature also means that businesses that have data governance, compliance, and security needs are unable to use Airtable. Furthermore, individuals, teams, and businesses that rely on Airtable experience heavy switching costs due to their strict vendor lock-in.

Airtable use cases

Airtable is best suited for scenarios where an individual or a business needs to:

  • Organize and collaborate on projects: Visually engaging data views and real-time collaboration features make it a great choice for small to medium project management tasks. It enables different team members to work together seamlessly on shared tasks, timelines, and deliverables.
  • Track inventory: Small to medium-sized businesses can leverage the software’s customizable fields to track inventory, including product details, supplier information, and stock levels.
  • Manage a CRM: Airtable’s ability to link related records makes it a good choice for a lightweight CRM system, allowing businesses to track interactions with clients, manage sales funnels, and keep all customer-related information in a centralized place.
  • Content planning: For marketing teams, the software can be used to plan and track content across multiple channels, with the ability to assign tasks to team members, set deadlines, and link to related resources.

When not to use Airtable

You should probably avoid using Airtable if:

  • You work with large datasets.
  • You have a need or desire for complex integrations.
  • You work with sensitive data (PII, PHI, etc.)
  • You work in a highly-regulated industry (healthcare, finance, education, law, etc.)
  • You want to self-host to have full control over your data.
  • You want to keep switching costs to a minimum and not be locked into a proprietary platform.

Here are some examples of when not to use Airtable:

  • When you’re managing large-scale databases: While Airtable does offer database-like functionalities, it may struggle to manage large datasets or complex relational database setups. There’s a lack of stability and speed at higher volumes of data, and it has relatively low record limits, even on the Enterprise plan.
  • If you have advanced automation or integration needs: The platform offers automation capabilities built in to streamline common tasks and workflows. However, businesses with more sophisticated requirements might find it lacking compared to other platforms. Additionally, while the software supports numerous native integrations, there are rate limits on its API. These can become a potential constraint for users or businesses that are handling vast amounts of data or are executing high-frequency operations through the API.
  • Heavy analytical requirement: While the software can do basic data manipulation and summary functions, it may not be sufficient for businesses that require complex data analysis and reporting.
  • Compliance-rich environments: Airtable is a cloud-based proprietary platform, so it might not be suitable for businesses operating in highly-regulated industries or those that require stringent data security since it might lack the necessary controls, audit logs, and bespoke data security measures.
  • When you need customization and scalability: Being a closed-source platform, Airtable does not permit users to alter its core functionality or add bespoke features tailored to unique business needs. Additionally, being tied to a specific platform comes with risks; any changes in its pricing or discontinuation of certain features could pose challenges for businesses relying on it.
  • When you want value for money: While Airtable offers free plans, it comes with restricted features and storage capacity. Airtable’s premium plans, although feature-rich, impose limitations on the number of rows and storage, and can become expensive—especially with growing team members and datasets. The platform’s per-user pricing approach may lead to escalating costs as your team expands.

How much does Airtable cost?

The platform provides a tiered pricing structure, with four distinct plans tailored for different business sizes and requirements. Each plan has set limits on record counts and attachment storage per base. For those handling large data volumes or with multiple users, costs can escalate significantly.

Here’s a quick look at its pricing plans. Read more in-depth in our complete guide to Airtable’s pricing and hidden costs.

Free plan

  • 1,200 records per base
  • 2GB attachment space per base
  • 2-weeks revision history
  • Free

Plus plan

  • 5,000 records per base
  • 5GB attachment space per base
  • 6-month revision history
  • $10 per user per month

Pro plan

  • 50,000 records per base
  • 20GB attachment space per base
  • 1-year revision history
  • $20 per user per month

Enterprise plan

  • 250,000 records per base
  • 1,000 GB of attachments
  • Add on professional services
  • Pricing on request

What’s the best alternative to Airtable?

Baserow alternative to Airtable

Baserow is the best alternative to Airtable if you’re looking for a no-code database with advanced functionality and a familiar spreadsheet-like interface. While Baserow offers many similar features to Airtable, it stands out with its flexibility, security, stability, and speed.

Here are 10 reasons to choose Baserow over Airtable:

  1. Open-source flexibility: Baserow’s open-source nature allows you to infinitely extend and customize your experience, avoiding vendor lock-in.
  2. Comprehensive data governance: Self-host Baserow to comply with stringent data and security governance rules, ensuring data remains in GDPR, HIPAA, SOC-2, and other compliance due to on-premise self-hosting.
  3. Enhanced database functionalities: Utilize Baserow’s plugin capabilities to expand your database functionalities far beyond what Airtable offers.
  4. Optimized for performance: Built for scalability, Baserow can handle over 500,000+ records without compromising speed or stability.
  5. API-first design: Every action in Baserow can be automated through its API, granting users far more flexibility compared to Airtable.
  6. Permissive licensing: Baserow’s MIT licence lets users modify and build atop the source code without incurring any fees.
  7. Familiar user experience: Transition smoothly from platforms like Excel or even Airtable with Baserow’s intuitive interface.
  8. Seamless interoperability: Being at the core of the no-code stack, Baserow integrates with numerous tools such as Make, n8n, Bubble, and Zapier.
  9. Community and support: Baserow boasts a vibrant community and offers extensive technical documentation, aiding in deployment, and scaling challenges.
  10. Diverse views and real-time collaboration: Baserow offers various views, including Grid, Calendar, Form, and Kanban, along with a range of real-time collaboration features and permissions.

Get started with Baserow

Baserow’s open-source, no-code database, and application platform give you a better way to organize and record data by combining the familiarity of a spreadsheet with the power of an industry-leading relational database. It works via a user-friendly experience that lets you marry components and third-party program interfaces (APIs) until it works just the way you want it.

Perfect for organizations with complex needs or big volumes of data, Baserow lets you build impressive custom solutions with lots of functionality. Our online database is open source, so you can run it independently on your own server and avoid vendor lock-in.

Get started with a range of pre-built templates for product management and planning, human resources, marketing, information technology, sales, finance, and much more. All you have to do is import your data and you’re good to go.

Easily integrate your data for analysis and reporting, visualize it using a variety of views, and link it across multiple tables to handle complex workflows. Invite collaborators and assign permissions so that they have the resources they need to complete their tasks. And make data available to viewers publicly, controlling what they see by using filters or hide fields.

At Baserow, we use modern tools and frameworks like Docker, Django, Nuxt, and Vue so that you can easily write plugins or contribute. Plus, you can integrate other software including popular third-party work apps like Slack, Mailchimp, Stripe, and many more.

Switch from Airtable to Baserow

Ready to get started? Then contact Baserow today! Or, check out our guide to help you migrate from Airtable to Baserow in one click.

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