My 2020 No-Code Toolkit
This year has been somewhat of a break out year for no-code tools with multiple different platforms and products being released for each use case. And, although we are still in the very infancy of the no-code space in general, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to stand out, especially if you are operating in one of the more competitive areas e.g. mobile apps.
So, I thought it would be useful to share what I would consider my go-to no-code toolkit suitable for personal use and client recommendations alike!
This series of recommendations are weighted with a few things in-mind including how long they have been around, are likely to be around and traction they currently have.
I wanted to do it this way as it’s easy to list out flashy new tools but if their is a strong change they won’t be here in 6 months then they still remain quite risky especially if you are recommending them to clients.
Without further ado, let’s get into my no-code toolkit of 2020.
If you follow me on Twitter you will likely have seem me mention Descript on multiple occasions now and likely all of them positive. Descript is a product that occupies its own space and through the mind bendingly good functionality doesn’t have a competitors anywhere close by right now.
For those of you reading this thinking, I’ve never heard of this Descript things you speak of then I’ll give you the one line version. Descript enables you to edit audio and video by simply editing text. Yup, you read that right.
As far as features go in Descript, some of my favourite parts are, the ability to screen record directly into the app using the Descript Screen Recorder (that I swear gets more powerful every day) and also the ability to automatically remove filler words/shorten word gaps with the press of a single button!
ALSO, with the latest update (at the time of writing this) the screen recorder now supports multi-cameras - so you can record two individual views and edit them into your video simply. Giving you some of those YouTuber vibes!
Being able to edit audio and video was, like creating software, reserved for people who had a very particular set of skills and wasn’t an option for everyone. Descript turns this completely on its head.
Through 2020 I’ve been using it to edit interviews and more recently through some epic product updates, full tutorial videos.
If you are a content creator or planning to be then Descript is your new best friend.
Meet everyones favourite automation tool. As someone who sits firmly on the operations/automations side of the no-code fence, tools don’t come much better. If you are reading this a complete beginner to the no-code space, then in short, Zapier is a way to connect two pieces of software together to pass information between then automatically.
At Makerpad, there is not much that we do from day to day that doesn’t touch Zapier in one form or another. On the flip side of this, if there is a tool that doesn’t connect with Zapier then it has to be exceptional in it’s function or completely unique to be adopted as part of the core stack!
As far as it’s place in the world Zapier sits nicely at the intersection of users between makers, operators and small to medium size businesses and with 2 million customers so far it’s definitely found the sweet spot.
There have been a number of challengers coming into the automation space in 2020 but Zapier still reigns supreme.
Building mobile apps without code is still very much something that the majority of the world don't know is possible. Glide are hoping to change this by aiming to create 1 billion software developers by 2030.
Now while this is obviously a lofty goal, there are a few no-code tools that deliver the same sort of 'aha' moment as building your first app with Glide does. Through simplicity combined with constraints, anyone picking up Glide, even for the first time, can have an app built and on your phone in no time at all.
While currently the apps built and published with Glide are Progressive Web Apps this hasn't stopped incredible numbers of apps being built for different use-cases spanning internal business apps through to consumer apps.
Huge opportunity ahead for the Glide team.
Oh and their tutorial videos are some of the best in the game. Kudos and shoutout to fellow Brit, Jack Vaughan.
Adalo is another tool which I have talked about pretty consistently over the last year or so. Ever since we discovered them prior to the “No-code Conf” in San Francisco in 2019, Adalo has gone from strength to strength. In my opinion there is no easier tool that enables you to build fully customisable web and mobile apps without writing code.
One of the key differentiators that Adalo has over its competitors is that Adalo produces Native mobile apps that can be published into the app store as well as Progressive Web Apps which you just download to your phone. This is a big win for Adalo and has been the case for a long time.
On the feature side this year Adalo has consistently released features and improvements to its platform including a Component Marketplace which allows people or companies to develop custom components for others to add to their applications. Some components developed so far include Image Swipes in a Tinder esque fashion and a QR Code Scanner to name two.
A final thing worth mentioning is that Adalo makes it super simple for you to create a Web App and a Mobile App that share the same database. This is something which seems trivial but although common place for products built in traditional environments is somewhat unique in the no-code space.
A good example use case for doing something like this would be for having and Admin Web App powering a User Mobile App with the correct permissions easily created out of the box.
I’m very much looking forward to seeing what improvements the team pushes out through 2021.
Much in the same vein as Zapier, Airtable is one of those tools that once you start using it you rarely stop. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Once you get more comfortable using Airtable the more use-cases somehow magically make their way into your head as ‘something you could use Airtable for’.
This sits firmly at number 2 of my list for a number of reasons but mainly because it’s a rock solid choice for any project, well, any project that requires sub 75k rows of data that is (if you do need something that can handle more than 75k rows you should be learning MySQL). The tool isn’t going anywhere anytime soon as it’s got tons of customers and is extremely well funded. Something you should always make sure of when building a no-code solution.
I wanted to give a shoutout to Aron from Automate All The Things as along with working at Airtable produces some excellent content around the different use cases and some creative ways to use it! Highly recommend subscribing to anything Aron does.
Again, for the uninitiated Airtable is part database part spreadsheet and once you make the move away from Google Sheets or Excel you won’t be going back. Airtable brings together all of the good functionality you get some you favourite spreadsheet provider and adds some superpowers onto. Plus this combined with Airtable is a force to be reckoned with.
Something worth mentioning which maybe foreign to spreadsheet folk is how Airtable uses Views. Without going into too much depth here, they allow you create different ways of viewing the same data and can be tailored according to certain criteria. For example, you would have a master view which contained all records in your Airtable and a view which contained records that only were only created after a certain date for instance.
To conclude, Airtable is a mighty fine tool which is yet to be displaced as the go-to database for most no-code projects.
What an incredible piece of software this is! Where WordPress led the way from all those years ago Webflow has taken on the baton and added the bells and whistles. A web designers dream, Webflow takes the power of being able to build websites visually and combines it with the flexibility and customisations options of someone who’s first language was CSS.
Oh and it outputs exceptionally clean code, apparently (if you’re into that sort of thing).
You may read the first paragraph and feel like Webflow is a tool for those who are already blesses with wands for fingers but Webflow is also a dream for those looking to get started in designing and building websites. Webflow University and Webflow 101 are nothing short of masterful in a way that can take the uninitiated from ‘just passing through’ too, ‘I think I can do this’ in just a few short videos. Dive in and you’ll be dragging elements onto a canvas in no-time.
While within our small community of makers Webflow is almost a god level entity, it’s not without good reason. Whether it’s the best in class tutorial videos, the CMS that let’s you dynamically create pages without having to duplicate them yourself or the showcase that gives us complete noobs the ability to pick apart the canvas's of wizards like Mackenzie Child, Webflow is a masterclass of what modern SaaS should look like.
Again, as per my first two recommendations, Webflow is a tool that is not only here to stay it is often the best choice when it comes to building a website for your clients or business. You’re not only able to make changes in record time but you are also able to hand off most of ongoing update work to the clients freeing you up to work on other things!
Now, there are a few things that us automation folks would like to see come from Webflow at some point but they are minor and likely niche requests so we can leave that for another day.
Congratulations to Vlad and the team for the ongoing success.
While the majority of seems to have been put into building platforms that cater to the same audience, Parabola fit’s into somewhere new.
Parabola is a tool that allows you to work with, transform and manipulate data in a way that was previously reserved for data analysts and other official sounding job titles.
To summaries what Parabola does in super simple terms is connect to a data source at one end, transform it or combine it with another data source and then output it at the other end. Now this can be as simple or as complex as you like but the key here is that Parabola is able to process tables of data at a time, on a schedule with ease and on autopilot.
A good example of this would be that, if you are using one platform to sell products on e.g. Shopify, and one platform to handle your Shipping or Postage e.g. ShipStation and you wanted to see at the end of each day which items got shipped/fulfilled you would use Parabola. You would be able to pull in these two data sources, filter and combine the data in accordance to what you need then output it at the end of each day in an email, CSV, Google Sheet or into any other place you need.
Another good example use case for Parabola is to sync data between Airtable and Webflow on a schedule.
There are few tools like Parabola and fit nicely into the toolbox of a no-code operator.
Another area of the internet that has been booming through 2020 are online communities. So much so that we've seen a lot of growth in the demand for solid community platforms that play nicely with the rest of our tools.
While there are a number of good ones to choose from (and perhaps the topic of another post), one has emerged as the most popular amongst internet community founders. That tool is Circle.
For me, Circle is my default choice when recommending a tool stack to someone wanting to build a community. As one of the first people to see the platform, Ben made the call early on to move the Makerpad community over from Slack to Circle this year and also Write of Passage, Ness Labs and Forte Labs also manage their respective communities on Circle also.
It has added a modern twist to the tried and tested forum format whist adding in all the customisation and integration options required from a software tool in 2020.
Now the next few tools don’t quite fit into the use everyday and on every project kind of space but they do however fill a the ever valuable job of being available for when there is a use case that isn’t covered by one of the Primary tools.
So let’s get into it.
Integromat is an automation tool that sit in the same space as Zapier but with a very different user interface and a slightly different nuance into the way it is structured.
Where automations built in Zapier flow from top to bottom in a mainly waterfall type fashion, Integromat is more of a canvas in a style shared by Parabola. Components can be placed freely on the screen and go off in multiple directions all at once as well as being able to follow more well defined tracks in the style of Zapier.
One of the main differentiators of using Integromat over Zapier is that Integromat, on the most part goes a lot deeper down the API of each tool where Zapier seems to take the most popular end-points limiting the amount of options presented to the user.
While the 80/20 is clearly working for Zapier and it’s 2 million customers, once you really start getting into the weeds of automation work there will be times where you need to get a bit more granular in your flows and that is where Integromat starts to shine.
A couple of things that Integromat does exceptionally well is error handling and working with data on a granular level.
As a no-code operator, consultant our business owner then knowing when to use Integromat is a key part of the armoury.
I can’t think of a much easier way to create single page websites than Carrd. This one definitely passes the mum test and if my mum can use it then pretty sure anyones can. No offence mum.
Although it’s been on the scene for a while now the simplicity of it makes a default choice if you are trying to fire up a site without having to take that step up into Webflow. With Carrd you can go from idea to site in sub 5 minutes which is remarkable.
Not a tool I use everyday but something which secures a spot firmly as a backup tool.
If you've ever built a no-code project then chances are you've had to bolt multiple tools together to get all of the functionality you want. This results in a lot of individual bills per months and those can sure add up fast.
The other downside to doing it this way is that you actually can't gather good data on everything that is happening across the stack as they are, although connected, siloed from each other.
Outseta changes this by bringing all of this functionality together in one platform making your life a lot easier, saving you money and an awful lot of headaches.
This is the default option to recommend to projects that fit a certain criteria! Oh and they have an integration with Circle which is ace!
Looking forward to seeing what Geoff and the team roll out in 2021.
Huge fan of this product that makes translating your website into multiple languages super simple.
Weglot makes sense if you are looking to serve content or products and services to people in different countries as when you are using Weglot at the DNS level your site gets indexed into the search engine native to that country.
More traffic, more wins all around.
Thinking we'll be seeing a lot more websites using Weglot by default through the next 12 months.
Also, would like to see this work together nicely with other tools and services that produce content...watch this space.
Built as a tool that makes it possible to turn Notion into a website, Super is a simple to use product which takes a lot of the pain away from launching a website quickly and easily.
As well as removing a lot of the pain it also brings a whole lot of joy. The creator James Traf produces products of such incredible aesthetics you'll just want to use what he makes as they're usually so dang smooth!
This one also sits in an interesting spot in that it is built on top of a popular platform in a similar way as something like Stacker is built on-top of Airtable.
Ones to look out for
I didn’t want to finished this post without mentioning a few tools that I’m personally excited to see develop over the next year or two.
Through some tutorials I’ve been making recently I started playing around with Softr and really liked the way they are going with the tool. With lots of integration options (which is a big win by default) and easy to use interface, Softr make building web apps super simple.
If you are just at the start of your journey building out simple web apps then this would be a good places to start!
I wanted to include Draftbit into this section as they are trying to bring the design capabilities of Webflow into a no-code mobile app building environment. In my opinion this will sit in a nice spot for a number of people who want more control over their designs.
One other thing worth mentioning is, they may be working on a GraphQL connector which means you will be able to create a production grade database using a BaaS tool like 8Base and use that as the backend to your Draftbit app. Gamechanger.
I hope this post inspires you to go and build something and if you want to learn more about creating software without writing code head over to www.makerpad.co where you may just see my face.
p.s. there is one tool that I intentionally didn't but on this list as I'll be writing about it soon! But, just to say it could actually be up there with Descript as my favourite tool of the year!