Doesn't this preclude Grid from being a spreadsheet app?
Maybe you think you're making some sort of important point here. Or maybe you realize your comment is inane and you think it's witty. But (perhaps without realizing it) you and the people upvoting you represent one of the worst forces at work in the world. The people who ridicule new things when they first appear in incomplete form are one of the worst drags on innovation.
I think most people agree now that it's valid strategy, particularly in software, to launch a simple version one of something and then iterate rapidly. I'm constantly pushing founders to do that. And you know what's the biggest thing holding them back? The fear that people will make fun of the first thing they launch.
One does need to take a bit of care to avoid looking like you're being snide and "witty." Something which is ambiguously a salient point or a bit of snark may be mistaken for snark. (If it might look like snark, it might look like snark?)
Or, one can just not care. If you have interesting things to say, long term you can weather a few dozen downvotes.
I took your comment to be "the elephant in the room." (I've been thinking of a "sub-sub-spreadsheet" app -- one that just totals columns of numbers.)
But it sounds from your reply like you really did mean it seriously. Perhaps you believed that the guys who wrote Grid never intended to develop it further, and you were puzzled that they were calling it a spreadsheet. If so I apologize.
I think though that many of the people who upvoted you did realize that this post was an instance of a startup launching an early version one that they plan to develop further, and your innocent question thus became snarky in their hands.
If you see a headline that says "Dewey Defeats Truman" you expect to read a story explaining that Truman has been defeated. Similarly, if you see a headline that says "Grid Reinvents The Spreadsheet" you expect to read a story that explains that the spreadsheet has been reinvented.
In the story itself, the founders don't pretend that Grid has a reinvented spreadsheet ready to go. They have an interesting proof of concept that they intend to enhance until it reinvents the spreadsheet.
A reader, having been misled by the headline (not misled by the founders) is naturally going to ask atacrawl's question. Any criticism implied in such a question is properly directed at TechCrunch, not at Grid.
In atacrawl's position, I would be distressed at the people "agreeing" with the snark you misread from his question.
I still maintain that it's pointless to lash out at the snarky commenters... If they ARE being snarky, lashing out isn't going to help, and if they aren't, we'll risk alienating to genuine commenters.
I respect your judgement with regards to the dynamics of the community more than mine, but I'd like to suggest that it may still serve us well to give the benefit of the doubt. I think we're all basically in agreement at this point, however.
Paul never said he wanted you to heap praise on the app. A simple rephrasing would have sufficed :)
This is pretty freaking harsh, and I imagine would trigger a feeling of defensiveness in almost anyone: "Maybe you think you're making some sort of important point here. Or maybe you realize your comment is inane and you think it's witty. But (perhaps without realizing it) you and the people upvoting you represent one of the worst forces at work in the world."
It's incongruous with the site guidelines, in fact: "... Be civil. Don't say things you wouldn't say in a face to face conversation. When disagreeing, please reply to the argument instead of calling names ..."
In my book ANY feedback is valuable, even the ones who say your app is crap/irrelevant/missing a key feature. If one if scared of getting feedback, then entrepreneurship is probably not the right occupation for them.
I don't think he was being inane, witty, or that he is a part of one of the "worst forces at work in the world." He is simply stating that to advertise your product as spreadsheet software, it should probably include some of the features that users expect to be found in spreadsheet software.
The way I see it, GRID isn't spreadsheet software at all (and doesn't seem to want to be based on the website), and shouldn't be advertising itself as such.
Is the term misused? Who cares? It looks really cool because it's focused on the non-math use cases (which IMO are much better suited to a tablet anyway, where I wouldn't want to be entering columns of numbers on an on-screen keyboard).
I believe that they are alienating users who might read "spreadsheet" and think "a bunch of formulas that I don't know how to use" rather than "easy to use layout/calendaring/organizational tool." Furthermore, those of us who read "spreadsheet" and think "oh, awesome, tablet optimized spreadsheets!" are sorely disappointed.
The software world is absolutely flooded with half baked crap backed by expensive marketing. As a software user it's a waste of my time when somebody releases "A Simply Remarkable Spreadsheet" that allows you to "organize and work with them in a whole new intuitive way" and it lacks the basic features I expect from a spreadsheet (I suppose that is indeed remarkable). Worse, it leads to a situation where customers don't trust software developers to provide the things they say they are providing.
What would you have us do? Not criticize massively hyped app releases that are backed by millions of dollars of VC money because we might hurt somebodies feelings? If you are going to make a big fanfare about your new 'spreadsheet' app, then you have to be prepared for the (predictable) negative reaction when it turns out it isn't actually a spreadsheet at all. Don't get pissed off when it gets criticism after you flood all the tech news sites with press releases and submit your site to all the aggregators and email dozens of bloggers.
The people doing this are savvy and know what they are doing, which is basically conning users with false promises. They know it will earn them criticism from people who are paying attention, they don't care, they are in it for the money. Your portrayal of the innocent, uncertain, timid startup CEO is pretty laughable. These are business graduates that decided to go into software startups because they think there is more money in it than investment banking at the moment, many have never written any software themselves.
You can whine all you want but customers are always going to complain when the product does not meet the description. It's really quite simple to avoid this though: stop lying in your marketing.
Edit: I didn't mean to make it sound like I think the Grid folks themselves are actually upset about this criticism, I'm sure they are not. They must have had many meetings trying to decide if they should call it a spreadsheet even though it isn't, and they obviously decided to do it because they feel they will get more attention as a 'mobile spreadsheet' rather than some vaguely defined data organiser. It was a calculated move that seems to be paying off at the initial launch at least, since the app is getting far more attention than most.
But it clearly is a spreadsheet. It's moving in a direction spreadsheets haven't gone before, and in order to innovate that way they've made some decisions about which classical features to defer. How could they have done otherwise?
The research literature on spreadsheet users shows that about half of them rely on computation with formulas and half don't. (That data is old and spotty but it's the best we have. Joel Spolsky made a similar point a few months ago.) So a sizeable chunk of spreadsheet users aren't going to mind, or even notice, that computation wasn't prioritized here. Those users probably aren't well represented on HN but they probably are a good fit for a tablet spreadsheet.
The spreadsheet space is remarkable for how little innovation it has seen relative to how massive its user base is. Has there been a fundamental innovation since pivot tables? That was 20 years ago, and even then something of a hack, designed to answer Lotus Improv. I guess collaborative spreadsheets count (Google Docs) but that feels more like adding in a generic modern feature than rethinking spreadsheets per se. We need to see a lot more of the latter. I suppose I should disclose that I'm working on it too, albeit at the computational end.
This clearly has some limited organizational functionality, but no analysis (that I can tell, at least.)
I think the argument about what is or is not a spreadsheet is pretty much semantics and nothing else, but I think it might be a bad move for Grid to call itself a spreadsheet app (note: I do not know if Grid calls itself a spreadsheet app) since the vast majority of consumers are going to equate that with Excel or Numbers.
Now we are all expected to pitch in and enrich everyone around us who can network a little bit.
Note: I actually think Grid's v1 was pretty well put together (based on the demo video). I am mostly referring to the half-backed Bootstrap sites with nothing more than a sign up form.
Its not the users being conned, but VC "investors".
You are wrong in this post.
The colloquial definition of a spreadsheet app in about 100% of the world at this time is the ability to do calcs.
This video is fantastic, but what shows is currently purely a layout app (hence the grid nomenclature) - frankly - it is a visual Workflowy.
Also, you know what is a drag on innovation, lack of cordial discussion (I am a perpetrator of this myself - even on HN, I get emotionally involved in something and it takes another HN user's response to give me perspective) - and I think you were harsh in your comment, and rather than foster discussion about this, you attacked the OP.
I am sure all of us agree with: "I think most people agree now that it's valid strategy, particularly in software, to launch a simple version one of something and then iterate rapidly"
But I found nothing snide in the OP at all.
For me Grid got right the essence how and why some people use spreadsheet for non-calc tasks. If people write long text, they start text editor. If they want to add more "structure", they do not implement new DB application, but they start spreadsheet app.
Especially in corporate world: if manager wants to track tasks (issues, progress of documents) - he starts Excel and uses it like the Grid. The most complex Excel I have seen so far was used for tracking wedding - tasks, guests, deadlines etc ;)
There are many ways how people use general concept of spreadsheet. Some might involve complex calculations, some people use it only as a free-form grid. My guess is that the ratio is 1:10 (in favor of free-form grid). That is why I think BinaryThumb hit the sweet spot and will be successful even if they do not implement calculations at all.
I use Excel for most everything (e.g. I do all my patch matrix docs for the DC, MDF, IDF buildouts in excel. Modelling the physical layout of a switch in Excel to show what ports are patched where - and while I am not doing any formulas in these particular docs - sometimes I do (clacing bandwidth, subscription etc...)
I feel a disturbance in the force.
"... Be civil. Don't say things you wouldn't say in a face to face conversation. When disagreeing, please reply to the argument instead of calling names ..." ~ http://ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html
The markets provide cruel, ruthless feedback in the form of buy/pass behaviour. Getting that feedback as early as possible on one's MVP is insightful, albeit painful. Criticism can be more valuable than atomistically binary market activity by providing insight into why the market is behaving as it is (or will be).
Given the specific case, if the founders are working on a feature to fill the hole discussed, great - they have a bit of validation. If not, they have the opportunity to consider it. Either way, I don't see why there is a reason to get beaten up about it.
Negative feedback is as much a drag on innovation as market rejection. At worst, it should be a non-factor.
I think it is - I like the concept, agree that people use spreadsheet for far more than calculations. But bringing up the discussion of whether they're necessary should help the founders decide if they should focus on adding that before scaling up the marketing or whether it's useful as is...
These days, a spreadsheet that doesn't calculate is an edge case given thirty years of mainstream usage of the term. Though having had the pleasure of revising letters my boss drafted in Lotus 123, I can accept the proposition that calculations are an accidental property.
Disrupting the spreadsheet requires convincing people that "spreadsheet" is not synonymous with "Excel." A task which is probably harder than it should be given that Excel is a reasonably practical tool for preparing Gantt charts or a data table for a mail merge [tasks for which I have used Excel on more than one occasion].
Richard Diehl's Tabulus is another interesting approach in the opposite direction.
Much of the current and next wave of new apps are aimed at enterprise (as startups move to markets where the money is).
There is a very high MVP threshold for enterprise.
When 37signals released the next version of Basecamp they took a lot of flack for not including time tracking in first rev (even though their metrics showed few people used it).
It is common in Enterprises to have senior players ready to point out any obvious issues in any recommendation. Apps looking to get in to this market have to recognise this feature of the market - it's just not the same as putting out a new social app.
Look at the demo video on the site. There's a list of expenses and dollar costs. But you can't automatically sum them? Anyone familiar with spreadsheets would consider that a pretty fundamental feature.
It's also a missed opportunity to offer those people UIs that fit their tasks, rather than encourage them to continue poor use of the only tool they know.
Really surprised to see something like this from Paul. Totally not in the spirit of HN.
I interpreted it his question as genuinely wondering if "the ability to calculate formulas is a defining characteristic of a spreadsheet." Perhaps it's not, but it's not something to bite his head off for!
Jumping to conclusions and failing to give the benefit of the doubt is another drag on intelligent discourse and innovation!
I like the data entry technique for the tablet which is at the heart of this demo. But there is no reason to throw around the word "innovation," even when warding off the worst forces at work in the world.
On the desktop, that dead platform, UI designers have been inventing new user controls for many years, and packaging them as products. But no one important comes to their frantic defense when one of these bundles of features is under-appreciated by its intended audience. Perhaps that says something about the current environment? Maybe we should just let these new-ish hardware and software platforms mature without getting breathless or aggressive when contemplating them.
It looks like a really cool app but as soon as they said it can't do spreadsheet calculations just about everybody that has ever used a spreadsheet must have immediately had the same thought, "wait a minute, then, how is it a spreadsheet?"
And asking that question is not ridicule, or making fun of the first thing someone launches.
And IF the question is critical of anything then surely it is of TC misrepresenting the app as "a spreadsheet app for tablets".
Because really, it's quite clear: as long as it doesn't do spreadsheet calculations, it's not a spreadsheet app. Instead, it's a grid. Which is in fact what it's called and it looks great.
And the minute they add spreadsheet calculations to the feature list, it'll ALSO be a spreadsheet. Happy now?
It's funny because I always thought jumping straight at the throats of people that dare to ask questions is one of the worst forces at work in the world.
It's not even a difficult question. Do you seriously think the developers of that app live in FEAR of having to say "yeah right now it's a grid. spreadsheet calculations will be in the next beta soon and then we'll call it a spreadsheet, TC just jumped the gun a bit". Must be absolutely terrifying, having to accurately describe the functionality of your application in its current version.
Just make a directed graph out of cell references. Get the strongly connected components. All of the components with more than one vertex contain a loop and can't be computed. Remove those and you get a directed acyclic graph. Now you can topological sort them for cell dependencies, and start calculating them in the order they are needed.
Or if your language has a dataflow implementation it is even easier. Haven't seen one of these for Obj-C though.
I will add that this looks pretty cool, though.
It just shouldn't come as a surprise when a lot of people question the choice of leaving out the #1 feature of spreadsheets. Even on version one.
They might be in the process of actually designing an interface for formulas that actually expands the reach of such functionality. You know, something that the "I'm bad at math" crowd could actually dig into, make use of, and learn within.
If you release a basic not-that-hard-to-implement version of the functionality, it's WAY harder to drop in a new, innovative model afterwards. I think there's a lot of sense in waiting until they can get it right, if they're planning on doing something different with it--which, judging by the other UI departures they've made, I wouldn't be surprised if they are.
Nobody would care if they released a "new" spreadsheet app that did calculations, but with innovative features still on the to do list.
Grid is taking the right approach and personally I think it looks sexy as hell.
But that wasn't the point, IMvHO the point was that if it doesn't walk/talk/act/etc. like a spreadsheet, don't call it a spreadsheet and confuse your users when the basic feature that has been in spreadsheet's since VisiCalc is missing. Call it what it's called, the Grid and leave it there.
Yes, but it is, simultaneously, in its current incarnation, defining what spreadheet apps can't do.
Sexy sells for the genral public, but as other have pointed out, in the enterprise, sexy is much less important. More important is functionality. Maybe in it's next iteration, it will meet the demands of the office worker, currently, I don't see that, beyond helping coordinate parties or meetings.
Moreover my reaction to criticism by pg on your comment is that while the demo video is indeed neat, it is also a bit contrived. I would rather shoot myself than go through all these steps to make plan for a simple camping trip. I cannot also imagine doing any serious data work on it. It is not about being negative to the idea of potentially a useful implementation of spreadsheets in tablets, but when a particular design is presented you cannot not have a critical debate for the sole reason of demotivating innovation. It is exactly the other way around, criticism is the only way you may get an agro objectivish feedback for what may or not work in a design and seek to improve.
This is way slicker than the first versions of most products.
The concepts look great, but the pitch that he was "the designer of Excel 2013" rubbed me the wrong way. The Office UX design team is not a one man show. I thought maybe the reporter was puffing things up a little, but even on Josh's personal website he's claiming he was the designer.
"I worked as the Excel 2013 designer which I transitioned into from a software engineering role"
Quote from PG:
"Don't be discouraged if what you produce initially is something other people dismiss as a toy. In fact, that's a good sign. That's probably why everyone else has been overlooking the idea. The first microcomputers were dismissed as toys. And the first planes, and the first cars. At this point, when someone comes to us with something that users like but that we could envision forum trolls dismissing as a toy, it makes us especially likely to invest."
On the other hand, casual users aren't a natural fit for excel. The program has way too many complicated features, and isn't as simple as it could be. This seems perfect for the casual user that just want to create simple stuff that looks good.
1. Number crunching with the goal of creating charts/tables to be placed in either documents or presentations.
2. Detailed analysis of a given data set.
I think the former is ripe for application in the tablet space; most of my presentations, at the very least, tend to be 'here, let me talk and rely on visualization for the things that aren't easily conveyed with speech' -- honestly, an app where I can create multiple charts and broadcast them will be great.
Grid seems to be eschewing this use case in favor of having spreadsheets as tabularly organized content. While I don't have any specific issue with this, I don't see what problem or opportunity it addresses beyond "hey, nobody's done this!"
I can see it having merit with the few times I'll use a GDoc spreadsheet for organizing, say, who brings what to a party (and I do suppose that GDocs is a fairer comparison to Grid than Excel, at this stage), but being tablet-only hamstrings that effort.
I guess, overall, my question is: "What can I do with Grid that I can't do with anything else?"
Unfortunately, the sound mix is atrocious. Music is way too loud, one can barely hear the narration. It was so bad that I stopped viewing the video.
As an excel power user and fan of spreadsheet innovation in general, I always felt that an excel disruptor would probably look and feel more like a robust post-it note than a spreadsheet.
However, I have to applaud anything that moves our information-consumption into a more delimited, structured form. I love narrative and paragraphs, but Tufte's small multiples is something that would greatly help day-to-day communication
> Business spreadsheets most definitely need help
In any case, Excel/Google Docs have such a strong, relied-upon foundation that even if someone built a great spreadsheet from scratch that was unparalleled for the tablet audience, the risk of being dominated by a sudden entrance of either Microsoft/Google is probably too much to commit the funding that's needed to build the infrastructure to support such a platform.
I think Grid is doing the right thing, but staying away from the business-type spreadsheet...as there are plenty of ways that spreadsheets are useful, even without numbers. I use spreadsheets all the time to plan out projects and take notes, as I know I want to end up adding categories/subcategories/deadline columns that I want to aggregate/sort upon.
While I like the idea and the mechanic, the initial emphasis on social integration of a spreadsheet makes the assumption that others will be able to A: willing to download the app when invited & B: be able to use it with minimal instruction in a collaborative fashion.
This may be something that many more tech-savvy users will embrace, but despite the simplicity of the UX it does require a mental hurdle to cross in order to utilize it fully. I think many people will certainly overcome that, but the question is how many. Is the market of users large enough for this use case? Of course, I may also be simply reading too much into the video - there will be plenty of other uses for this sort of app.
I think this will become less and less of a problem as the next generation of tech users come of age and embrace technology like this. They're growing up with this sort of functionality and will use it in ways we can't yet anticipate. What Grid certainly has going for it is one of the most solid guesses at that sort of interaction I've seen so far.
Despite my initial misgivings, I definitely want to give it a try.
I could definitely see where something like this could be used to replace their current workflow. The fact that this can work on a tablet is even better. You know why? She prefers doing this type of work in the evenings, on an iPad, as we're relaxing away from our desks.
It looks good. Seems easy to use, and looks fashionably well done; complete (really, you should see these spreadsheets they share back and forth).
The only thing I've ever wondered about these types of tools -- with so many good new options coming out seemingly daily, is how you would get people on-board? I can see it working once everyone can agree to start using it, but getting people to completely change there toolset and workflow (especially if other partners are not, can not, or will not adopt it) can be a tough nut to crack.
I didn't see any formulas though. Not even a sum. I wonder how that's going to be in Grid.
I'm still looking for an app that uses a spreadsheet-like UI in order to be able to ask whatif and model data pulled from backend datasources.
This would be infinitely more useful (for my use cases).
I think stats and a lot of other serious number-crunching/business oriented software is ready for multitouch disruption. I've been toying with the idea of taking an all-in-one HP multitouch pc and turning it into a "workstation surface" mounted horizontally and implementing serious business apps on it.
I'm in part motivated by my girlfriend's RSI. (Non-carpal tunnel!) Touch interfaces and styluses seem to bother her much less. No stats programs let you use it end-to-end that way.
They've taken that basic idea, and made a really cool semi-structured visualization, and added interesting widgets like the map.
If you look at it from that angle, you've got something that really sounds pretty interesting and something that, hey, if I have a few bucks sure I'll play with it.
If I wanted to go camping with friends, I'd call/text/email them and use a text editor to keep track of names and items that we need.
Now if they can get businesses to be productive on their tablets and phones on the other hand....
Would be nice to see a demo of its number-crunching capabilities, to judge whether it's innovative in that area as well.
This is something that can change the market in a positive way and hopefully help take iPads from being almost solely a device for consumption to a device used to spur creation and innovation as well
If Grid can simply view other spreadsheet formats (even stripped of formulas and formatting), you'll get a lot of looks from the business world.
Awesome work guys. Definitely using this for an upcoming roadtrip. And more :)