by a Thinker, Sailor, Blogger, Irreverent Guy from Madras

Use Google Spreadsheet as a database - 1

Whatever the disadvantages of Google docs and however much you like MS Excel, Google docs - especially Google Spreadsheets - beats everything when it is time to store, manage and display information online.

A friend asked me in 2009 to put up a simple web presence for his small business.  It is a sub dealership for a National Bike and Scooter company and the criteria for the online presence were:
  • shouldn’t cost much money - preferably a free host, a minimal design even using standard templates and no hidden or recurring costs by way of bandwidth etc.
  • should be easy to update information in it - like changes in price or taxes etc.
  • should be easy to operate - need not contain fancy eye-candy like flash or video which would be difficult and time consuming to alter.
  • should be user friendly - provide enough information for user to make him/her trust the business and be easy to use the site.
  • should not involve much online time (even for updates) by the operator (an employee), to avoid Orkut/Facebook, Online Gaming time and possible malware infection.
The reasons are obvious and don’t merit any explanation.  The choice under such conditions was also obvious - Google sites.  It is free, offering huge amount of storage and no worry about bandwidth or website up time. 

It is not an ideal or even a great solution as there will be no PHP, SQL, Flash or ASP, (which suits us fine) but for a small business, it does the job.  Since the business itself targets local consumers, such a site coupled with Google Maps is, in my opinion, the best free solution possible.

As using SQL or any other database is out, the obvious solution was to fall back on another Google products, the Google Docs - especially the Google Spreadsheet.  By uploading various data for all the bikes and scooter in a Google spreadsheet and then embedding the necessary parts inside the Google site with a Gadget, the problem was easily solved (or not so easily - read on).


Such a spreadsheet also caters to 4th requirement as the business can keep a copy of the spreadsheet locally on the PC as an MS Excel (or even OpenOffice/LibreOffice) spreadsheet or Google Docs Offline, make changes locally when needed and replace the Google Docs in a couple of minutes.

In part 2 - the Challenges faced in display the relevant data using Google Spreadsheet as a database and updating the data.

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