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Turning Spreadsheets Into Applications

Posted by: Rob Hof on January 08, 2006

Outside Wall Street, it seems like the spreadsheet is used for just about everything but crunching numbers: keeping lists, tracking job candidates, organizing projects. But Excel wasn’t really designed to do all that, and emailing spreadsheets around is pretty cumbersome. That’s where JotSpot Tracker comes in.

Released Sunday night in public beta, the service from Palo Alto’s JotSpot lets you essentially create an application from spreadsheet data, by copying and dropping a spreadsheet into a Tracker page, which is a kind of wiki. Once in that page, anyone with permission can see and edit it, so everyone always sees the same version. Even more interesting, once that data, or structured information of any kind, is a Web page, it can be combined with other Web services such as maps and calendars, as well as files that usually don’t fit into spreadsheet cells. “Trackers are a mashup platform for the rest of us,” says JotSpot CEO Joe Kraus.

It’s all part of JotSpot’s bid to help people—not just programmers—create their own applications. “What you’ve created in your spreadsheet is the seed of an application,” says Kraus. “By putting it into Tracker, it helps it flower.”

Great minds seem to be thinking alike. Dan Bricklin, co-creator of the seminal spreadsheet VisiCalc, recently put out an early alpha test of something he’s calling wikiCalc. For now, wikiCalc is considerably different, since you have to download software to run it, and then you FTP material to the site, so it doesn’t look as smooth. But they’re both steps in the right direction, toward turning out information into collaborative applications we can share with whomever we choose. No time yet to try either one, so I’ve got some work to do. Curious what you think, too.

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Reader Comments

John Koenig

January 9, 2006 10:28 AM

Don't forget numsum.

Steven F. Lott

January 11, 2006 07:10 AM

Interesting. Ultimately, some of those spreadsheets are going to become Big, Serious Issues because the "spreadsheet schema" isn't really very scalable a wide variety of problems. However, for small, well-defined problems, it's a fun idea.

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