I'm sick of all these spreadsheets
November 23, 2009 10:37 AM   Subscribe

Overloaded with spreadsheets! Looking for an online database program that has bug-tracking features.

Right now I've been charged with converting some printed ESL books to an online courseware format. We have a team in the Philippines do the actual implementation of the content; what I do is map out each book in a spreadsheet, make suggestions to the team on how to implement each activity, and send it on to them. They then implement the activities, making comments in the spreadsheet and emailing it back to me. I then QA their work, and send them updated spreadsheets with lists of items for them to return to.

It's getting to the point now where all these spreadsheets are getting incredibly unwieldy. In the past I've used Quickbase with other companies for this purpose, but I'm wondering if there is a cheaper alternative.

Basically, I'm looking for an online database that has bug-tracking features. I would like the ability to easily make hundreds of entries (with specific information entered, i.e., "Number" "Activity Type" "Notes from Client", etc.) that the team can look at, use as the basis for their work, and make comments on once they've completed each item. They would then mark each item as "completed" "have a question", etc., and I can look in on each one and either reopen it if it has problems or mark it as "Approved by client".

More importantly, I need to be able to mark items with different tags, so that I can return to some of them later. Additionally, we would be opening up many projects, and the ability to query the data would be necessary (like Quickbase offers).

I looked at Sifter and realized that it wouldn't fit my needs because I couldn't easily enter records quickly. Can anyone recommend something that would fit my needs? Again, Quickbase seems like the right sort of thing, but the ~300 / month payment plan is too much for our startup.

If I've been unclear about what I'm looking for, let me know, I can comment with more specific information.

posted by mammary16 to Computers & Internet (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
There are a gazillion bug trackers out there, many of them free or ultra low cost. Bugzilla is geared towards software development, but could easily be made to do what you want, and hey, it is free. You could setup custom fields, statuses, tags, etc... It does come with a simple command-line tool in the contrib/ directory that you could use to enter new "records" pretty fast if you wanted to. Querying is robust and you can export query results as CSV or XML for further reporting. FogBUGZ isn't free, but it's not expensive, and it's become rather popular within small project teams like yours. You may well be able to do this all in Basecamp and have an awesome project management system to boot. dotProject could be a nice free alternative. JIRA is uber powerful and could certainly do this, but also complex.

So there's a half dozen ideas or so, centered more around the idea of online bug trackers than online databases (the bug trackers are, of course, backed by databases...). Specifically, why doesn't Sifter work? I haven't used it, but it appears to be pretty darn fast to enter new "records" (issues). Just click "Create," add a subject, and hit "Create and add another" -- everything else is optional. I'm not certain that Sifter gives you the control you need to create the various custom fields you require, but you could certainly do that with Bugzilla or JIRA or many of the other issue trackers out there.

If you give me a better idea how one or more of these bug trackers don't fit your needs, I can try to recommend something different, but I think you'll have more luck in the "issue tracker/project manager" vein of web application than the more general "database" type like Quickbase.
posted by zachlipton at 11:18 AM on November 23, 2009

Response by poster: Zachlipton - thank you for your response!

My concern is that the vast majority of entries will not need to be commented on or reassigned to any members of the team (after the first assignment). I'll be entering about a hundred a day. It's easy and fast in Excel, since I can just tab between fields, hit enter, and do it over again. The method I saw in Sifter involved clicking through pages to enter each item; this would take way too long for my needs.

I'll take a look at the few you've mentioned (Bugzilla, dotProject, JIRA). One of the members of our development team said that Fogbugz would be overkill for what I'm asking. (his exact phrasing was "it would be like using a backhoe to drive a nail")

Thanks again! If anyone else has some suggestions, or have used bug-tracking software for editorial purposes, let me know!
posted by mammary16 at 11:29 AM on November 23, 2009

To cut it short your looking for a "bug tracking" or "issue tracking" system. Wikipedia has a comparison chart.
posted by oxit at 11:37 AM on November 23, 2009

hmm. I still think you could well make this work in a bug tracker like Bugzilla or a project manager like Basecamp, but perhaps we're overthinking this here. Let's go lower-end.

What about...Google Spreadsheets? Basically, you would have your Excel spreadsheet, except there is only one spreadsheet, and instead of everyone emailing it back and forth, it lives in the cloud and you can all edit it at the same time. You could later download the file as an Excel document if you wanted to do more complex querying/sorting in Excel itself. It's free, and while it doesn't manage a lot of the complexity of the process for you, it doesn't add much on its own either, so it would be a net win for you guys. You could also try EditGrid or Expresso spreadsheet or Zoho if you wanted a more full-featured spreadsheet than Google provides.

Also, while we're plugging Google products, Google Wave is really designed to facilitate collaborative editing of documents and the passing of comments back and forth. I'm not sure how well it would scale to your application, but it may be something to experiment with since it would give you the ability to keep your content and your comments together and to facilitate the back-and-forth for you, rather than splitting the comments off into an issue manager/database/spreadsheet.
posted by zachlipton at 3:06 PM on November 23, 2009

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