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October 11, 2006

Reality Check: Coghead

coghead.jpg

Coghead provides a web-based application that allows tech-savvy businesspeople (that is, non-programmers) to create and deliver their own web-based applications. Essentially, it’s bringing the “do-it-yourself” trend to software—hopefully disrupting tradition and changing the way software is created and used. It can help fill the large, unmet need for small, specialized applications because packaged software is too inflexible and custom development is too expensive and slow.

Coghead’s website is both an application authoring tool and an application delivery service. At Coghead’s website people can create an application using simple-to-learn methods (or pick a pre-built app from Coghead’s application gallery) and then invite co-workers to use the application. All anyone needs is a browser and an Internet connection. The key selling points are:

  • There’s no need to purchase new hardware or software.

  • Users can access applications anywhere they have Internet access.

  • Coghead applications are inherently multi-users.

  • Data and application are managed centrally and off-site.

These days lots of people complain about needing custom applications to do their jobs better, but not being able to get them because IT is busy with other things or because custom application development is just too expensive. Coghead aims to empower the people closest to the need to create and deliver business applications in hours.

Coghead advances the state-of-the-art in a couple of other areas as well. First, Coghead allows you to create applications with meaty business logic. “Business logic” used to be the domain of enterprise applications like SAP and Oracle. Coghead has included an intuitive ‘process builder’ that lets people put real business logic in their apps.

Second, Coghead provides rich web services integration. When you create an application in Coghead, it automatically generates a web services interface for that application. It also provides the capability to integrate external web services from other applications. All this means that Coghead is a sweet platform for creating mash-ups—applications that integrate with other web services like Google Maps or stock market feeds.

Coghead is just now rolling out their public beta and they already have several thousand people on the waiting list. Click here if you’d like to sign up for the public beta.

Full disclosure: I am on the advisory board of Coghead.



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Comments

is it possible to make website on own by using this coghead.

please advice by e-mail

punidhavelu

[email protected]

Great text !

I believe that alot of the folks commenting here are missing the point. In an era where methodologies like SCRUM and EP are taking off, this is a great idea. It seems like the business persons' Ruby On Rails or CakePHP. I am all for the user coming to me and saying, "This is the model we built in CogHead. What do you think?” And I agree, this is perfect for Non-Profits. Low cost empowerment for organizations that need to help the world outside their computer.

I think some of the negative reaction to Coghead are similar to ones I hear from Linux fans. When someone views the world through a perspective where their focus and time are mostly consumed by running the environment they are a fan of (Linux, Rails, PHP, etc) - then they can't imagine a world where someone might want to use technology to achieve a goal that is only part of their day and need to leave time for their other duties such as running a business or being a doctor or writing a book.

Developers and hobbyist will always look at solutions such as Coghead and DabbleDB or Microsoft Office for that matter from a viewpoint that they are "expensive", "Untrustworthy" and "not under my control". But people who spend most of their day a few layers removed from coding or hardware tinkering are willing to sacrifice some money and some control to a trusted third party to recapture some of their time or better yet move initiatives forward much faster and in parallel with other initiatives.

Not everyone values their time at $0 and not everyone has lots of it to spare or a highly technical social group . For those people, CogHead and DabbleDB are useful tools to let them play with different what-if scenarios quickly and at a low cost. It also lifts the burden of "simple" apps off of a developer and let's them concentrate on the really hard problems like generating pixel perfect PDF reports from these solutions or LDAP based integration of various solutions.

I think solutions like Coghead and DabbleDB will make interaction between non-programmers and programmers even better, giving each side a better respect for the intelligence and skills of the other. A user of these solutions will think twice before asking for help from a developer before they have spent some time on requirements. This newfound appreciation would come from having experienced first hand the double and triple work that occurs when you don't think and plan things through in advance. And they will learn to appreciate planning and specs from their time using Coghead or DabbleDB.

In theory this approach to application development makes all the sense in the world - the people close to the business problem solving it themselves. Sadly, the reality today is that business users exist somewhere between search and surf. You can barely find more than one or two Excel power users in large organizations that can actually build a model - and that is arguably the most popular business user based application development tool on the planet. To think that users are going to take the time to learn to build even the most trivial applications is a non starter.

Caspio Bridge (www.caspio.com) has been doing this since 2001.

Guy:

A word from the trenches. The business need here is unmistakable. Yes, there is a great deal of pent-up creativity among the masses. Yes, there is a need for very particular apps. serving even more particular needs. Yes, the trend away from desktop apps is here to stay. And yes, the domain expert is the one who needs the "pen in his hands."

But -- and this is the straw which will break the camel's back -- a drag and drop or visual programming environment, which this appears to be, represents the same old pig in new clothes. [Object-oriented] programming needs to be revolutionized to address the issues above. I would advise Coghead to lessen the hype -- it's a sure fire way to disappoint people when the promises are unfufilled (ala Fortran, Cobol, 4 GL, and a host of other technolgies)

I know you probably don't want advertisements posted here, but I am TRULY an independent 'tech savy business guy' who has been using a product like this for more than 5 years to build business apps. The product is DATAWEB (http://www.DataWeb.com).

I have always wondered why it hasn't gotten much attention and why unreleased beta products like Coghead do.

For more than 6 years now DataWeb has been offering do-it-yourselfers like me the ability to create custom, scalable(>100K rows of data), complex, data and membership driven web applications (+ same bullets as Coghead: no software to buy or download; access anywhere; multi-user; managed off-site ...).

I've been developing using the platform every week since I discovered it, and I can't say enough about how they have insulated me from every technology aspect of web app development. I sit down and focus on just 4 things:
1) what data do I want to store/manipulate/relate?
2) what are my business processes?
3) what should the pages look like?
4) who should be able to do what?

Business processes are developed using a simple scripting language (easy for any Excel formula user to pick up). The other 3 are configured through "point and click" interfaces, with the ability to get 'under the covers' if the defaults don't work for your app (rarely happens).

Don't want to wait for Coghead to actually get a product to market or don't believe me? You can sign up for a free 10-day trial. (You could take the next hour or 2 and build and deploy a custom blog app like this from scratch! or use one of the existing modules and shorten your 'development time' to about 5 min)

coghead and its ilk could be useful for nonprofits who have simple (non-"enterprise") needs for the web to help them deliver their mission without having to speak geek.

My initial reaction was "Wow"! Which quickly soured into a "hmmm...", that fizzled into a reality check of "nnnnahh".

Coghead's premise is that when you give empowering tools to those who are closest to the problem, they're bound to come up with *the solution*. Well, do they really?

In any enterprise environment large or small, slick excel spreadsheets and access databases float around despite the availability centralized ERP or CRM systems. Majority of these files, however, exists simply as user-designed/developed workarounds to solve small problems.

In my opinion, Coghead could just be another avenue to easily create and deploy these small user-developed shortcuts or workarounds. Is that bad? No. But Coghead premise is definitely not as compelling of a solution as it apprears to be.

Another product in this area is Tenfold: http://www.10fold.com/firsttimevisitor.htm.

Services like this, particularly those that can be tied to external web services are a fantastic idea. Anyone who worked in a Lotus Notes shop in the 90's would appreciate the benefit of easy to create, yet powerful applications. (Even for seemingly silly things like managing lists)

The only problem here is that the whole thing relies on Coghead's website being available. No web access, no application. Also, I presume that you're data is hosted with Coghead as well, which basically eliminates a vast swath of users.

The real "meat" here is the drag and drop development environment. Add an option to download a PHP or .Net "code package" for local hosting of the application and you have a much better product.

The problem with non-programmers creating applications is not at the implementation stage. It's at the design and specification stage. Writing software is easy; deciding what software to write is hard.

MS Access has allowed businesspeople to create their own software for a long time. The problem with their creations is that the data models created in the process border on the psychotic, and end up getting badly wedged as processes and requirements change. Why would a new tool be any different?

If someone wanting a custom app could specify, in detail, exactly what it is that a programmer should create - i.e. simply design the application - the process of custom application development would be cheap. It's this lack of clarity at the requirement and specification stages that makes custom development so darned expensive. The most effective programmers are those who bring that clarity to the table early on, and I can't imagine any general-purpose development tool making that role obsolete.

In general, people specialize in various professional fields to do the job cheaper and faster. That's why end users need customized apps. IT specialist doing his jobs is cheaper than for example a lawyer building a database app, just like a customized app is more efficient than a general in long term.

Therefore I don't understand why you write about "IT is busy", "custom application development is just too expensive", and "do-it-yourself". If this tool is so great, why IT people can't use it?

Oh, by the way, according to Garage Technology's web site:

"We’re not interested in teams that are creating the nth solution to the same old problem nor companies who are trying to improve things by only 10 or 20 percent."

So, should I infer that you won't be investing in this Coghead thingie, and that FilmLoop was an aberration?

-jcr

Guy,

What you've got here is a forms and schema editor. That's all well and good, but I had that in 4D, and I have it right now in dozens of other products. What is supposed to be exciting about this one?

I'm extremely skeptical of this. These are the same promises we've heard ever since the invention of COBOL: non-technical people will be able to create their own applications. It wasn't true of COBOL, it wasn't true of Hypercard, it wasn't true of any of the 4GLs, RealBASIC, Smalltalk, and the list goes on and on.

-jcr

I'm a bit cautious about tools like this, because technology does not seem mature.
Anyway, whatever relieves the coding effort required to develop an application is positive. We spend far too much time babysitting code and tables instead of caring about UI and Business Processes

Well, I suppose your past experience with 4D will be useful on their advisory board.

4D and Filemaker are on different sides of the dividing line that has been mentioned upthread -- namely, trying to juggle "end-user friendly" and "powerful enough to actually do something". Filemaker - the more user friendly of the two - won that round, yet arguably Filemaker's existence has netted out more jobs for developers over the long haul.

Ultimately, though, this is a 5% play. Don't let the Valley blinders fool you. 95% of businesspeople have no interest at all in rolling their own applications except possibly as a very last resort.

Great comments all around (good to see a listing of options). I long for the open source solution (OFBiz by Apache) to take roots and reach this level of capability. OFBiz + MySQL = Open Source ERP systems supported by a large community of developers. That would beat the pants off of JDE or Oracle, IMHO.

I always have 2 major fears in this space:
(#1) The Company Could Disappear. This happens and my data & workflows goes POOF. How much would it suck to have your small company at the wims of a VC funded company that wants to close up shop??? This is a brutal hurdle to get over and is a significant concern with ANY business critical web-app. Arena (www.arenasolutions.com) gets over this hurdle by providing lots of tools for exporting info into (gasp) CSV or excel.
(#2) If you have to ask, you can't afford it. Interneer looks like every other execu-speak app out there (nice polished web page with lots of white paper PDFs and ROIs, but NO PRICE TO BE FOUND ANYWHERE). I'm reluctant to even spend (waste?) time on a demo if I'm not sure of the cost of the product.

Recently, the idea of building custom business applications has become “trendy.” Virtually overnight two systems, ZoHo Creator and Coghead, have been getting a lot of attention from bloggers and the media. However, people are overlooking the most time-tested source of web-based platforms for custom-built business applications. There has been a system on the market for over 5 years successfully doing the same thing ZoHo Creator and Coghead aim to do. This system is Interneer Intellect.

Interneer Intellect holds patents protecting much of the instant application building capabilities. This fact, on top of the years of development it has already undergone, inhibits Coghead from having a hope to ever be able to compete (in my opinion).

If you are considering using ZoHo Creator or Coghead to build custom applications for your business I would suggest also looking into Interneer Intellect. All three systems offer their own unique strong points… but Interneer Intellect by far has the longest list of functions and capabilities. This in itself is reason enough to register at Interneer’s site and view the product demo and/or white papers.

http://www.interneer.com/landingpages/gaw/rpd.asp

http://www.interneer.com

Great discussion. In my opinion, this isn't about replacing programmers. It's about bringing the benefits of automation to a class of needs that has been resistant to software automation in the past. If you work in IT, you are probably constantly getting requests from your customers for very specific custom applications. Some of these requests are so important that you undertake traditional custom app development to solve the customer's needs. But for lots of the requests, you simply can't cost justify building a custom app.

What happens when IT says no to these customer requests? The need still exists.

Often times what happens is the customer goes off and does inappropriate things. They build their own app using Microsoft Access. Or they try VB or PHP with terrible results. Or, maybe they just take sensitive information (like customer credit cards), stick it in an Excel spreadsheet and email it to coworkers from their unsecured wireless network at home. In effect, you've driven the problem underground.

We (Coghead) want to enable IT or business unit people to create relatively simple applications quickly to solve this class of needs -- and to do it in a far better way than previous attempts. The Internet delivery model changes everything. Unlike Microsoft Access etc., we run everything from an enterprise-grade SAS 70 certified data center. We use a state-of-the-art security model. We use an enterprise grade database. We have automatic backup, failover, and disaster recover. Everything can be managed an administered centrally. We have a strong permissions model that enables administrators to limit access to data down to the record level. ...

In short, we aim to give IT the ability to serve their customers with an agile application capability so you don't have to say 'no' to your customer so often. We also aim to help you get closer to your customers by letting your customers participate in the application innovation process.

How many other segments will follow that route? Just think that 10 years ago creating a web page was something quite complex, today you dont even need to know html... what is next?

I have an open mind about it. Where I think there's a fit is in SMALLER organizations that may not have an extensive IT infrastructure and organization; not be burdened by those pesky SOX liabilities; and have smaller groups who desperately need simple, easily accessible applications.
This application is for guys like me. When I'm told by IT that there's no business case or funding for what I need, I waste away DAYS trying to get excel macros, Access databases, frontpage websites etc. to do the job.

The concept of building applications on the web without having to install software on the system is good. It does make it more flexible.

However, I'm not sure how many of the "Tech-savy businessmen" could come up with worth-while applications through this.

Programming is more than mere coding. Anyone can write a "Hello World" application, but, it takes much to build larger applications.

Especially, the customized applications! It is with these that you'll need more technical skills.

Coghead comes with a good purpose. But, it would be quite difficult to do away with programming!

Coghead 2006 = Ning 2005

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