Blist Thinks ‘Easy’ is the Killer Feature for Online Databases

Does the world need another database? If it’s easier to use than a spreadsheet and available online, Blist thinks so.

The company, which is launching in beta this week at DEMO, makes a collaborative, web-based tool for building databases that can contain everything from contact information to videos. While the web is full of database-building tools (like GoogleBase) and roll-your-own-portal sites, Blist is banking on its simple, intuitive UI to win over users. “GoogleBase isn’t easy enough for mainstream users in terms of creating databases or sharing them,” says Kevin Merritt, Blist’s CEO.

One of the biggest challenges in database design is building the structure of data. For example, a spreadsheet might easily contain a list of friends. But adding the type of car they drive presents an information design problem: Ideally, you’d have another table with car models in it, and try to relate each friend to their car. This involves defining a structure, or schema, for the information and building relations.

Unfortunately, many consumers can’t make the jump from flat spreadsheets to schemas. “There are many reasons why easy databases haven’t taken off,” says Merritt. “Part of it is certainly ease of use. We think Blist will democratize data organization just as Visio and PowerPoint have democratized creating diagrams and presentations.”

Blist’s application, which is entering public beta, uses a visually rich, table-based interface that can also represent data in other formats, such as a calendar or a form. The company uses the metaphor that most consumers know — the spreadsheet — and automatically deals with issues like relational data, data typing, and queries.

Blist is one of several startups that conference organizer Chris Shipley chose because they “wrap complexity and capability in simple designs and interfaces.” If this simplicity pays off, one challenge the company may face is scaling. By letting users store large objects such as video clips, database size could grow dramatically. Merritt points out that Blist’s founders are prepared for this kind of volume. “This team has already built the world’s largest email archiving service,” he says. “Internet scale ops is a core competency and a key differentiator that separates Blist from most other startups.”