Knack: Practical Web App Builder for Small Biz

First hatched at General Assembly’s Demo Night in March, NYC-based Knack recently launched a beta version of its “Microsoft Access on steroids” concept. After trying it over the weekend, I’d describe Knack as being an incredibly ambitious table and list manager. Practical, frugal (free for 14 days, low monthly fee after), and friendly enough to be used by small biz owners who lack the programming chromosome.

Everyone loves lists, and small businesses especially live or die by them: stuff to order, employees to call, ingredients for Wednesday’s lunch special, and, say, blog posts to be written by next Friday.

Knack, of course, is not the first to have realized the market for a rapid web app generator to satisfy SMB informational needs. Google Fusion Tables, Wufoo, and, if you include some of the recent mobile players, OnePager, Yapp, and others all intersect with this space. There’s probably a Venn diagram that can explain it all. I await for a brighter spark to come up with one.

Anyway, Knack is different in its single-minded focus on the table metaphor as solution for making biz data shareable, webable, and updateable. In other words, you can create a core table made up of data rows, and then build a simple app to display and interact with it. No programming required.

In my brief testing of Knack, I came up with an app for a mythical small neighborhood cafe to display a daily special and take orders from customers. I spent part of an afternoon–no more than 4 hours– to cook this up. Keep the applause down, please. The point is that a less technically-oriented business owner could accomplish the same thing.

There’s a slight learning curve, and I suppose it does help to have some familiarity with words like object, interface, field, etc. The key is to work out the Knack model and realize that Knack “scenes” are web pages, “objects” are tables, “views” are layouts involving objects, “connections” implement one-to-many relations between objects, and “forms”, unsurprisingly, are forms. After publishing the app within Knack’s domain, you’re supplied the appropriate script to embed the Knack app–Knapp?–in an existing web site.

For the more adventurous, there’s a rich-text flavor of views that supports HTML tags and styles. An editor provides some help, but you’re on your own here. In the future, Knack will give developers access to APIs, so I suspect there will also be a marketplace of Knack gadgets at some point. Which is all to say that Knack generated apps will ultimately look and act much slicker than my creation.

I’m just back from vacation, in good spirits, and it appears that my grumpy side is completely tamed. I can say without any reservation that Knack is really solid work, and refreshingly better than a lot of social media clones I’ve been seeing over the last few months. Kudos to the Knack crew.

Knack starts at $19/month.


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