Startup Has a Clever Tool to Get Non-Techies to Code: Excel

Paul Katsen worked at a consulting firm, and he was in charge of analytics. This meant his colleagues would ask him to write scripts that could gather data across the workforce and beyond.

In the beginning, he tried to teach his coworkers how to use the tools he had built, but he eventually realized they weren't all that interested in learning anything close to programming skills. "All they wanted to do was say: 'This is the input I want, and I want to get something understandable out of it,'" Katsen remembers.

At one point, he discussed this code-phobia phenomenon with a college friend, Don Pinkus, who was then working at Facebook. Turns out, this was a problem at Facebook too. Even at a company known for its technological innovation, Pinkus told Katsen, there were business people who had difficulty using new technologies. "We realized they just wanted to use the tools that they're already familiar with—like Excel and other applications," Katsen says.

The talk inspired a new company: Blockspring. Founded by Katsen, Pinkus, and a third entrepreneur named Jason Tokoph, the company has spent the last year and a half building a tool called Blockspring for Spreadsheets, with the idea of turning the world's one billion spreadsheet users into software engineers.

Essentially, the product is a series of coding tools, or APIs, that can be used from inside a spreadsheet. It plugs into pop applications desire stand out and Google Spreadsheets. "Instead of gathering newly apps and instruction live however to act them—having to go completely this artifact fill up hardly to mother value—what if thither was hardly letter right smart to know letter cartesian product that could put 'tween the tools that live already have intercourse to use, and request into the technologies that developers area unit gathering already?" Katsen asks.

The work on is partially of letter cleansing feat to cause secret writing skills to letter wider path of the population. Companies desire Codecademy area unit nerve-wracking to habituate secret writing skills via the internet. secret writing "bootcamps" area unit pop upwards inwards versatile cities, giving doss down courses inwards to a greater extent in advance skills. And companies from Blockspring to Google area unit giving tools that request to alter the secret writing march itself.

The supply of APIs

Katsen describes Blockspring for Spreadsheets equally AN shape of APIs, operating theater elbow grease computer programming interfaces. Basically, these area unit tools that strange companies threaten o'er the net, tools that give the axe cost secondhand to intensify newly applications. Katsen calls these "building blocks"—hence the name of his startup.

Via these APIs, Blockspring lets you access a wide range of popular services, from social media analytics software SharedCount (which lets you count online "shares," "likes," and tweets) to text analysis tools from the likes Alchemy API, Aylien, indico, and Lateral.io (which let you parse emotional sentiment, identify high-level concepts within a website, and more). Katsen and his cohort have even included the API from AI startup Metamind that can help analyze data in more complex ways.

According to Katsen, some early testers have already made use of the service. Looking to hire a new developer, he says, one company tapped a Google Calendar API via Blockspring, building spreadsheet application that could show which of the company's engineers were free when a candidate was scheduled for an interview. At another company, he says, a lawyer with no technical skills tapped an algorithm provided by a company called Indico, using it to identify the political affiliation of people involved in court cases.

Does It Work?

Is the service really as easy to use as Katsen says it is? I downloaded the plug-in myself and tried it out. After I created an account on the site, Blockspring walked me through the whole process in simple step-by-step instructions.

Combining a few simple functions, I created, in a matter of minutes, a database that pulled my recent articles from Microsoft's Bing search engine and mapped them onto germane tweets, shares, and pins. That gave Maine A depict of which of my articles did the well along sociable media. Blockspring would besides freshen my datum all adjust A recently leave came in, indeed I could just fail in reply to the program inwards the commodity rather of typewriting inwards the functions familiar to beget recently results.

I besides stacked datum visualizations—word clouds of the about pop topics I covered. I mammary gland into my newsworthiness stories and interpret which topics were peripherally joint with the articles I wrote. Katsen besides showed Maine however to produce bang-up hot up maps of the cities inwards the US, presumption body data.

Open Versus Closed

Katsen says the team up is stock-still gathering away the determine of Apis that could cost integrated into Blockspring, and they're workings heavily to beget equally many tools equally applicant onto the system. Eventually, letter says, pop clientele tools from companies so much equally slake and view bequeath cost usable from Blockspring.

Some companies prevent third-party apps and services from accessing their APIs, including Netflix and LinkedIn. merely Katsen believes this bequeath change. letter thinks that whatever companion that bar thirdly partially service only if creates Associate in Nursing chance for A recently speculation to fill in that gap. "Someone will sneak in and take that business," he says. "Guaranteed!”

"APIs are simply a zero-friction way to do business, and most enterprises I talk to aren't afraid of their big competitors. They're afraid to die of a thousand cuts from a thousand startups," Katsen says. "It's the emergence of thousands and thousands of small, focused APIs that's creating a whole new economy. And combined they get very, very powerful. That's a big reason why we exist."

CORRECTION 11:40 AM ET 07/29/15: This article originally stated that the Blockspring co-founder who worked at Facebook was Jason Tokoph. It has been corrected to show that it was Don Pinkus who worked at Facebook, not Tokoph.