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Show HN: Parabola.io – Automate your work with visual programming (parabola.io)
291 points by alexyaseen 10 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 66 comments

Hi HN!

I’m Alex from Parabola (https://parabola.io). Parabola is a visual programming tool for creating functional data flows that everyone can use. It’s entirely drag-and-drop, handles data sizes much larger than a traditional spreadsheet, calculates everything live, and can run your flows on a schedule of your choosing.

I used to work in strategy consulting, doing data analytics for SMBs and Fortune 500 companies. The amount of time wasted on menial tasks was astounding. Things like cleaning data, generating custom reports, creating human workflows to solve shortcomings in third party tools, etc.

Non-technical people have to rely on doing things manually or using fragile spreadsheets that solve only part of their use cases. We don't think everyone should have to learn to code in order to work productively (https://medium.com/parabola-labs/not-everyone-needs-to-learn...). That’s why we’re building the tools to help people stop wasting so much time on manual processes, and instead focus on their actual core competencies.

We’ve made some interesting decisions in the design of Parabola’s visual programming “language”. We’d love to hear what you think and are happy to discuss our thought process in the comments.

Request for your kind consideration: I completely empathize with the need to tier your pricing based on features, and have certain items that one only gets for "contact us"-level pricing.

But, I am very bummed out every time I see a startup where SSO is that feature. SAML/Okta, fine, whatever. But, it'd be really nice for any little startup to be able to let their users log in with G Suite and get two factor and all of the other security niceties that come with it. Letting folks adopt security best practices shouldn't cost them money (and isn't really core to your value prop). Just my two cents.

Ps. With GDPR coming into effect, and all the surrounding brouhaha, this is particularly important as many of your use cases are going to be piping around and manipulating user data.

I agree - I often see companies offer security features for "premium" customers only. This is the wrong approach and I wish more services focused on security first and then price the premium features accordingly.

The problem is that security is often the feature that has the biggest gap between how much the end user cares about it and how much the IT buyer cares about it, which makes it perfect as an upsell.

It's a very nice idea but these tools always have limitations that become super annoying after a while.

Programming is total freedom to do what you want and these tools try to make it look like you cab drag and drop data flows together and it will just work in a optimal way. And it will at first, until your first special or odd requirement needs to somehow be implemented in that tool.

Snap! is a visual "blocks" programming language like Scratch, but with the full power of Scheme:

First class functions.

Visual lexical closures.

User defined blocks including control structures.

Macros and special forms.

Call with current continuation!

Written in JavaScript and easy to integrate with JavaScript libraries.


Adding Machine Learning Blocks to Snap!





"total freedom" — never heard of it

Why can't you use a coding widget(not sure if this tool supports it) in those special cases? In that way common things are super easy and you can also tackle those corner cases as well.

But who is writing the widget? If it's a programmer, then why is he using this tool when most of this stuff is one liners in code anyway? And if it's a non-programmer, he now can't do something that he may have still been able to do in excel.

A non-developer who has access to developers. A developer can be paid to write the widget, which would likely be cheaper, easier, and faster than paying a developer for every minor change. It really depends on context. In a larger organization, for example, the user might have access to plenty of developers but need to open a ticket and wait forever every time they need something.

Hey, nice work.

What would you say differentiates this service from say, Zapier?

I really like how dbranes described it below:

>"drag-and-drop data transformation pipelines that comes with app integrations at both ends"

Parabola is very focused on data transformation/manipulation. Our best customers end up with hundreds of steps in their flows, essentially creating full-fledged programs. As part of this focus on data transformation, we primarily operate in a batch-processing fashion. We also perform calculations live while you work on your flow, similar to a spreadsheet or a python notebook.

Zapier on the other hand is great at connecting with TONS of tools, and makes integrations between those tools really smooth. It operates best in an event-based paradigm when you don't need to do much transformation/calculation in between connection points.

There's probably a small amount of overlap at the edges, but in general it's pretty clear when a use case will be a good fit for a tool like Zapier or when it's a good fit for Parabola.

This feels like an IPaaS to me - pricing aside, how would you compare this to built.io, SnapLogic, Jitterbit, Informatica and Boomi?

Disclosure: recent ex-employee of SnapLogic.

Hi Alex, I see in your examples section the pulling data from various cryptocurrency API's. I see a lot of potential in your product through targeting the cryptocurrency market. Is this a direct goal of yours or just a use case?

I'd classify it as a budding use case but one we're really interested in! Anything specific you're trying to do or would like to see Parabola support? Would love to hear more - hi [at] parabola.io

It would be cool to have the tool working also in offline scenarios, where no internet connection is possible, tough an automated workflow is still needed/possible

What kind of integrations would you expect in an offline feature? Do you have a specific use case in your industry?

Payments, PCI DSS for instance.

Hi, I'm curious -- what are the underlying technologies?

I noticed they were using jsPlumb https://jsplumbtoolkit.com/ for the UI builder


I'll get straight to the point. I've used Node-Red (https://nodered.org) in building my own IoT network along with automating quite a lot of things. I run my own Node-Red instance locally as well as online. Node-red has 1500 different functionality plugins, including things like "push flow to another node-red installation". Node-red also uses javascript as its frontend and backend. I can share whole code by giving someone the js block - which means that backing up flows is trivial. Sharing is also as easy.

So, I looked at your solution. It seems like a prettified version of Node-red with backup, js, and lack of ecosystem.

So, what's your buy-in? What're you doing better than a spare VPS running node-red? Not everyone is going to install and maintain a server.... but you're here on HN. I'd say that 95% or higher could get Nodered up and running here.

I suppose with that logic you don’t even need node red. You could just put your requirements into a .js file.

What’s your buy-in? What are you doing with node red that can’t be done with a text editor and npm?

That's certainly reducto-ad-absurdum if iv'e ever seen one.

They're both in the realm of "graphical programming language in the browser". One is a pay-per-$something, and the other is libre/gratis.

And sure, you could use backend js to write scripts to do $thing, but requires a lot of setup to work with different APIs. So absolutely no, js+text editor is nowhere near the same.

My time is more valuable than running, managing, maintaining, and monitoring a VPS just to save $180/mo.

If I've saved 1.5 hours, it's paid for itself, and I've been freed up to be productive on other things, like watching YouTube.

With cloud functions you don’t really need to do any of that

Thanks to the pointer for Node Red; I saw it on my Pi and forgot about it. It's pretty impressive (esp since it's got IBM all over it).

I’ve seen a lot of attempts at this product, and none have really caught my eye. Looks like you really nailed it. Btw, great marketing website. The use cases section is critical and it’s amazing how many sites miss that.

As others have alluded to, the challenge will be when users need to do something non-standard with the data. From your comments, it sounds like everything is built in JS. Is your multitenancy isolated enough that you would be able to build a JS scripting engine? That is, to enable power users to drop in some custom logic when they need to, by writing JS against a simple API.

How long ago did you launch? How did you find your first customers, and are they happy with the product?

Also would be keen to hear the story of your journey to product/market fit. Did the product always look like this? Did you talk to users as you built it? It’s such an ambitious project, I’d be scared I was building the wrong thing for months while getting to launch. But it seems like you’ve already hit product/market fit, so kudos for that.

This feels like https://ballerina.io/ but for non-programmers, and with SaaS integrations built-in. I've spent so much time moving CSV between systems at an ecommerce company.

Congrats on the launch, this looks awesome! Would love to learn more about how it was built.

Thanks @adamfeldman. Parabola originally was pure JS: running the majority of each step function of the language in the user’s browser, making use of some python API endpoints and React and Immutable.js for some performance enhancements to know when steps needed to be calculated and rendered.

Given there are definite limitations with browser based JS and user’s systems, we’re now a fully cloud based compute environment. As users make changes in our React UI, we send the work to a queue and then distribute it by parsing the flow tree across various node worker servers so steps can run in parallel (if your flow is built that way). Each step is self contained and we then use sockets (powered by PubNub) to notify the UI of changes.

This is a great way to scale your system. Well done.

AWS Lambda is fairly reliable for running untrusted functions (as well as trusted functions with carefully managed inputs) at scale for customers, but any function provider should work well for this purpose (as long as their container lifecycle meets your needs).

Can I ask what cloud products you use and the provider? Azure, AWS GC?

Obviously this is meant for companies or individuals without developers or technical skills. If you have the technical knowledge a lock in service like this doesn't make much sense.

The problem is that someone without a technical background won't initially see the value in a tool like this and I doubt non technical companies/individuals will need as much automation to justify it's price.

Edit: I think a much more sensible pricing would have been to offer a desktop app and then charge users for the automations they want online on a consumption basis.

wouldn't it save programmers time? Instead of setting up a writing a program, debugging it, maintaining it, etc?

Had to scroll down the page for a while before understanding the point of this: drag-and-drop data transformation pipelines that comes with app integrations at both ends. It’s a great idea!

Looks a bit like http://luna-lang.org to me. Are there similarities?

Love the UI. One bit of feedback: on https://parabola.io/ under "Self Documenting and Repeatable" I keep clicking the play buttons in the screenshot.

Did the exact same thing.

This looks pretty good, like Yahoo Pipes or IFTTT with a decent flow editor.

I understand your business pricing but your personal pricing is quite high at 600/yr for a regular simple user. You may want to consider testing it because consumers are used to 10 per month for the entire adobe photography suite. I know you are just starting up but I think you are going to get less traction at that price point.

This looks really awesome! I would love to build an integration for FormAPI [1], which would allow people to fill in PDFs. We would save the PDFs to Dropbox or send them as an email.

I'll send a message on the site chat!

[1] https://formapi.io


Where I work we're currently replacing everything that's SSIS with .NET services. I get the idea that taking the code out of it seems easier, but I've found it usually just leads to frustrating limitations. For our latest data migration we're moving things out of some SQL-based ticketing system, online accounting services, and FileMaker into Dynamics 365. Sure, it's not pretty to look at, but we can do some deep manipulation and mapping to existing entities in Dynamics that is frankly a chore in any sort of other migration tool.

Ninja Edit: To handle stuff like scheduling, endpoints, etc we use Azure functions.

Any plans for a “grab the latest file of this naming pattern from an SFTP” workflow?

We do indeed! We're adding name pattern matching to our file storage sources (dropbox, box, etc.) and also adding an FTP source. If you send an email to hi [at] parabola.io we can add you to the list to get notified. Also let us know if there are any edge cases you'd need it to support so we can make sure you'll be good to go.

I've been brainstorming a shallow, poor-man's poor man version of this. I couldn't hope to compete. This looks incredible. Kudos!

I've been trying to write a python-based version for embedded applications...

I could see that. I've heard the tools in that space are terrible. That related to your day job industry?

python-based version for tabular data processing & management, ecom oriented mostly (so basically op's product), myself.

My main motivation is to have a tool that I can use for both prototyping algorithms and bringing those algorithms into production without having to jump to an entirely different set of tools and techniques.

Looks great, reminds of Labview a bit. :)

Target market is something that UIPath currently addresses is it not?

How does Parabola handle authorization issues? Is it mostly through the right API?

I am teaching Python to office personnel who balked at the high price of UIPath but might find Parabola pricing easier to accept.

This is awesome. I am currently working with a team to develop a workflow tool with an eventual designer. This is very inspiring.

Take a look at Microsoft's logic apps, it is slightly more generalist, and not so focused on data processing but not nearly as polished as Parabola.

What features are better than Zapier? I am curious as I use Zapier for automating stuff I don't want to program especially for marketing releated and this does look like the flow can be more advanced?

This is pretty much exactly what was supposed to be the main product of a startup I worked with some three years ago. Unfortunately the founders had unrealistic ideas about funding and the work required.

Congratulations for the launch. Definitely a good idea. I'm a developer and personally won't need this, but I'll definitely suggest this when I think this could replace some "real coding".

Does this all run as some user's ID? Is it storing/managing credentials for them?

RPA tools seem to be all the rage, but questions around accountability, auditability and other security aspects still stand out.

you should allow to quickly testrun the product without having to signup.

Is there any plans to offer Jira/Atlassian integration?

That's definitely on our roadmap, and we move things around based on need/interest of users. Shoot us an email to hi [at] parabola.io with what you're looking to do and we'd love to see how we can help.

This looks exactly like an online version of Talend.

How is this different from Zapier or IFTT?

More transformations it looks like. You could probably pipe things through Google Sheets to replicate most of what this is doing but that’s an extra step. The whole point is to eliminate those.

Pentaho anyone?

Nothing for windows? MS Office?

Microsoft has "Flow" which is basically Parabola, but considerably more confusing for end-users.

This is about as true as it gets.

Also, the UI for flow is absolutely atrocious once you start adding large numbers of conditionals.

Parabola is browser-based so should work great on windows! And we support importing .csv and .xls files.

Great idea - especially for non-programmers.

The question I have is - can it outperform the command line? (see https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17135841 for more)

I almost always use awk/mawk for such things.

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