Picking no/lowCode tool that can delight & scale
Shared by AndyDent-Touchgram · 124d ago · 14 comments

I have a side-project/problem to solve which I can possibly solve with just Airtable but thought would be a good chance to learn a bit more about other noCode tools. Looking for a tool recommendation to build a web app that matches:

- has design flexibility for a really nice consumer experience including interface animation, eg Lottie or SVG
- backend can store images, possibly video, or can gate to AWS S3 without high added cost
- backend store allows for complex relationships to be built, don't care if is SQL or not, & supports text searching
- does good responsive designs but would settle for mobile-first with desktop requiring redesign
- vital doesn't have massively escalating costs if it was widely adopted (have read several scare stories about bubble) or heavily used
- prefer free or low cost to get started - I'm going to be doing very incremental dev over months, with just odd hours, so can't use a short-term trial to decide.
- can be extended if I want to add advanced features (I'm a very experienced multi-plat dev)
- dev experience is low priority - I don't mind difficult tools
- has export or text-based internal format, so I'm not stuck with some unusable binary if vendor goes under, & can use version control as I go
- handover to a team is possible - supports multiple developers (this is a low priority but once the basics are there might want to just hire folks)

If you are a vendor and are also interested in having an in-depth, independent article written about the tool, feel free to recommend yourself but be warned if you have weak points, they are likely to be called out. I'm also very fair and happy to rave about truly impressive experiences! This is not a project that's going to happen fast so no promises as to how soon such material would come out. I may also write it up as a series as I go, more Developer Diary style.

Any key points about the selection process I've missed?

(No this is not a pivot from Touchgram, but something I wanted to do a better job of than just stuffing odd things into Evernote and realised I've possibly identified a useful niche market, plus want to have real idea of how hard these tools are to build with)

dankelly · 124d ago

Notion released an API recently -> https://developers.notion.com

AndyDent-Touchgram · 124d ago

Thanks, that's useful to know but their pricing is probably too high to build my own service on top. If people were already using and paying for Notion it may be viable ($4/person/month). So far, as you'd expect, the API is designed to help you "build interactive experiences for users within Notion."
API doc says "Only text-like blocks are currently available" so that rules it out for now.

Yeah, I'll keep this in the back of my mind - it might just do the job once expanded and just selling to Notion users is not an unreasonable size market.
From first glance, the API is more like the one I've dabbled with years ago in Evernote - it lets you access the data within the service. I'm not yet seeing anything that lets you build an interactive experience running within Notion itself, as a different kind of block.
quick search found https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jiVDZZUSRfU explainer video - interesting that they build an "app" for it in Glitch! https://glitch.com/edit/#!/block-x-block-final?path=README.md%3A1%3A0

Klog · 122d ago

Super curious about the Notion API. Lmk how well that works.

AndyDent-Touchgram · 121d ago

I can understand why it's limited to text right now but that alone is going to prevent me doing more with it. I'm already using Evernote so could just use that as a backend via the API if that was all I wanted.

kendsouza · 123d ago

There is a lot of hype about noCode tools. This money making holy grail has always been around. Not to say they do not serve a purpose like wordpress. They were and still are always limited in what they can do. Eventually you will reach a dead end with their template limits, need for plugins, security issues and if there is a bug in the nocode tool, you are stuck until they fix it. And it might end up costing more in the long run. Airtable translates to Javascript/React apps and then u end up paying per seat and more db usage means higher costs. And there are scare stories with all these no code tools not just bubble.
Scaling is the biggest issue.Also unless you have access to the sourcecode and the database, they go under, you will go under.

If you want to build a web application which can scale, I would always suggest custom development using PHP/Javascript and MYSQL,Mariadb or PostgreSQL for the database. There are free PHP frameworks out there like Laravel and several Javascript frameworks like React, Vue, Angular etc.
As these are all open source, you never have to worry about any vendor/database costs and extend your app any way you want it.
Your only recurring cost will be hosting your app on a server and it is extremely cheap nowadays.

AndyDent-Touchgram · 123d ago

Thanks, Ken

My priority is being able to iterate on a great UX with scalability as a lower priority.

This is not a major project for me - it's a side-project for something I need personally. It has some potential to turn into a much bigger app but if there's a big barrier to entry it just won't happen.

I'm also old enough to have a very cynical but also realistic take on dev tools and low-code - I go back to before dBase II in the 80's,

kendsouza · 123d ago

yep..been there too.. dbase, clipper, hypercard etc.
Hopefully the new generation growing on the world of bubble, webflow, zapier, glitch etc will find their way into real programming:)

AndyDent-Touchgram · 121d ago

I'm more of a real programmer than most of the people on Pioneer and I don't dismiss these environments.

joyce · 121d ago

They seem like a natural next evolution. Conceivable that we won't need to code whatsoever soon. Just write descriptions in English that turn into apps.

AndyDent-Touchgram · 119d ago

Descriptions in English has been a holy grail since COBOL was invented.
By itself, it's never gonna work, because it's a very sloppy way to specify things.
I think it highly plausible that an interview-based process which proceeds from rough description and has a bot refine its understanding, will work for most cases.

This would mix well with automated codegen from rough sketches such as AirBnB are trialling https://airbnb.design/sketching-interfaces/

I see this as a variation on the lesson that Palm learned about recognising handwriting on very low-power systems. At the time when the Newton was being mocked in national cartoons, they had the insight that a meeting halfway would work.

So Palm introduced a simplified writing system which was:
1. easy to recognise
2. easy to learn to write in with a stylus.


ArchStaton · 119d ago


AndyDent-Touchgram · 118d ago

I think it's achievable given modern ML but still probably harder than most people think. https://copilot.github.com/ is providing suggestions based on comments and code. Friends who have tried it say it delivers wildly varying quality.

So I think we will nudge up to this with increasingly smart assistants but the problem with that is it still needs someone in charge, who understands what's happening well enough to know the assistant screwed up.

That someone in charge may be another ML model in future.

I've thought about this stuff, off and on, a lot - there are things which most codegen/design tools still miss completely. I just don't have a clone of me to pursue those ideas.

ArchStaton · 123d ago


AndyDent-Touchgram · 123d ago

Thanks for the heads-up but I'm looking for a web app solution, not a native app. I don't want this to be on an app store because if I monetise it, it will be at a low level. Plus it's more suited to be a web experience - some uses will be more convenient via laptops.