Mapping the NoCode Landscape
Mobile and web applications ease routine, save time and allow people to do creative things. But app development itself is an exhausting work. Let’s consider the main problem of modern development and discuss how NoCode tools help to solve it.
Software code for typical tasks
Programmers' time is very expensive. But simultaneously a large number of programming tasks have ready-made solutions. Adepts of the NoCode approach propose "packing" subprograms into customizable blocks. Such a code is easier to reuse by composing programs from blocks. The same way people assemble furniture from Ikea parts without delving into the subtleties of modern furniture design.
We don't write code when we don't need to. Programmers have already written billions of well tested lines of code. Once the lines are packed into blocks with inputs and outputs, anyone can connect them into the desired sequence at a new level of abstraction. This, in essence, is what is called NoCode. For those geeks who like flexible solutions, there are LowCode services: internal code of these building blocks is available for editing.
Most NoCode tools work on the web. Everything on the internet is connected. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Telegram provide APIs — interfaces connecting programs to profiles of users and communities. For example, this makes it possible to aggregate in one app messages from different platforms: emails, tweets and messages from social networks.
Advantages of NoCode apps over traditional development
Saving money and time. NoCode tools save investment in testing business ideas and make development more affordable. The entrepreneur can test the business strategy without delay and market research. There is no need to spend money on expensive senior developers. If the idea takes off, then there will also be investments. Conversely, if the idea does not interest people, the development costs will not be too high.
Reducing the threshold. With NoCode tools, beginners get a well working prototype in a few clicks. At the same time experienced developers with NoCode technologies spend less effort on repetitive steps.
Specific field questions are, of course, best left to experts: e.g. the security of personal information storage. But common tasks can easily be solved with NoCode tools:
- start up a pay-as-you-go shop app,
- automate the processing of registration forms and mailings,
- instantly send a suitable response to a new customer request.
Let’s consider different classes of NoCode specific tools and their usage examples.
NoCode system design
You are already familiar with NoCode design even if you haven't yet worked with NoCode tools. Here and there programs in the form of icons are combined into successive and branching chains:
- business analysts and managers draw Power Query diagrams in Excel;
- engineers connect virtual measuring instrument tools in NI LabVIEW;
- SMM managers schedule social network posts by dragging publication cards across channel boards in applications like Amplifr;
- data analysts are templating data processing at Orange and Knime visual tools.
Icons present apps in a more accessible way. A set of several related actions are combined into a subprogram: e.g. "removing duplicates" or "sending a report". Subprograms are visually represented by an icon. It is seen as something simple even to those who have never programmed before.
To create a new application, all you have to do is change the node connection sequence. First, we imagine how the input data should turn into output data. Then we configure the pipeline so that the information is transformed along the required route.
There are three ways to collect data from the internet:
- Use an off-the-shelf API if there is a source that provides one. Data processing can be automated using the LowCode tool Autocode.
- Connect a pre-collected database, e.g. via ScrapeHunt.
- Apply the parser. This is a programme that scraps a given type of information on a web page, such as product names or prices. NoCode parsers Simplescraper and ParseHub extract data into json and xls files.
Suggestions to customers to fill in the form. The form is easy to design using Google Forms, Typeform, or an advanced Paperform with built-in payment processing. Use GetForm and JotForm to embed it in the HTML code of the page.
The main thing is not to forget the legal aspect of storing personal information. Different standards (CCPA or GDPR) have different data policy generators comply: GetTerms or Avodocs.
The data have to be stored and analyzed. For small amounts of data, a spreadsheet is enough. The most affordable option is Google Sheets. A more convenient tool for embedding data into NoCode solutions is Airtable. If the free Airtable plan is not enough, there are alternatives: Rows, Zenkit, Tadabase.
What about SQL? SQL and NoSQL databases are used to organise arrays of indexed information. Using Actiondesk, you can work with SQL databases in the same way as with simple tables.
Information can be stored in heterogeneous sources. Imagine that information about customers, products and services is stored in SQL, while information about potential customers is stored in Google Sheets. Parabola allows you to combine data from different sources into a single stream.
There may be omissions in the data. A predictive model must be built to estimate unknown values and uncertain variables: determining potential customers who are more likely to place an order or varying the price of the service depending on the workload of the workers, as Uber does.
Predictive models from tabular data are built with obviously.ai. There is lobe.ai for classifying pictures. And for developers familiar with machine learning, ludwig.ai is also a great NoCode-choice.
Building websites nowadays is also a routine task. You can trust Cloudflare to do all the same things: SSL certificates, CDN, HTTP/3, compression and load balancing.
For a quick start, there's Bubble and WebFlow, where you can draw up a landing page or portfolio, editing the template to suit your own vision. The coding of the web page is done visually, arranged not harder than processing layers in Photoshop. Personal profile web pages, product pages, order pages can be generated from tabular data — table2site and sheet2site tools transform such data into HTML pages.
If you need a shop website. Suppose your friend has decided to sell digital products: pdf books, drawings or educational courses. If he asks you to recommend a suitable resource, suggest Gumroad. The commission on sales is comparable to the cost of website support and payment gateways fees. There's also Sharetribe for building an independent marketplace, and Stripe if you're just looking to connect a payment form to wepbage.
Communication with customers
There are many NoCode tools for team member interaction. Fibery, Monday or Linear organizers facilitate interaction between clients and team members. Together with Coda documents with automatic action generation it is easy to build a complete personalized project tracker or CRM system.
Email automation is usually done with MailChimp or Mailgun. Documate is able to generate and send documents in doc or pdf files, substituting user data in a template.
Easier to stay in touch. Landbot helps automate WhatsApp communication (you can train a chatbot to respond). Twilio knows how to send SMS codes for authorisation on a website or in an app.
Aggregation services and platforms
NoCode services solve all kinds of problems. But the best part is that they can be chained together to build even more interesting applications.
A separate class of NoCode systems are platforms: Apifornia, Zapier, Integromat, IFTTT, N8N. The platforms allow different tools to be connected to each other. At the same time, they serve as directories for third-party services. Many of them also act as stores for the distribution of software created using NoCode-technologies.
Data is transferred between nodes as a result of triggers: a receiving email from a client, a special signal from the previous node or a table update. When a node has finished processing the information, it sends a signal to the next node. As a result, any complex data processing is implemented only by the NoCode components.
When choosing a platform, pay attention that data is portable. The main thing to clarify when analyzing platforms is how easy it is to migrate data. Check that data can be offloaded to standard csv, json files or SQL databases.
What we have learned about NoCode services:
- The main idea behind NoCode is not to write code when you don't need to, but to reuse programmes packaged in customisable blocks.
- This approach lowers the entry threshold: many tasks can be automated even without knowledge of programming languages.
- Most of the NoCode tools available today are designed to simplify web activities: collecting information, managing data and applications, and interacting with colleagues and customers.
- NoCode tools can be combined via scripts, specifying the necessary services and interservice connections.
- When choosing a NoCode system, pay attention to the possibility to save the accumulated data into a convenient format.
There are a lot of useful articles about NoCode development on MakerPad and NoCodeList.