Database help
September 14, 2011 4:58 PM   Subscribe

Help me learn how to build a database, or find someone that can help me (or build it for me).

I would like to build a database to keep track of contact information, initial and follow-up encounters, and pending issues. I am in a University, but the IT department and my departmental IT guy see this as too small of a project for their time. I've used Excel, but need something more robust to help sort data, add information and use the information contained in a productive manner. I've gone through, on paper, what I would like this database to contain, but getting through the steps of building it have gotten me somewhat frustrated. This is the first database I'm building, and I have become very successful at building rudimentary databases that crash without fail. There are other potential projects for work that I'd also like to develop databases for, but I'm starting here first. I've been using "The Missing Manual" for Access as a guide, but still can't seem to get things right.

So, my question is: Is there a better way to go about doing this? Can I hire someone to help me build this database? If so, where can I find someone willing to work with me and tweak things as we go along? Am I asking the right questions? Do you need more information? Thanks in advance for any advice.
posted by defenestrated to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Have you looked into any off-the-shelf CRM software?
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 5:08 PM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding NSAID: you might find that it's much more effective to use something like Highrise to track your details. Building your own often seems like a great idea, but usually brings a raft of problems down the track—maintenance, support, backup, bug fixing.

As far as finding someone to help you build something—you're at a University. Talk to your ICT or CompSci / Software Engineering department and get some students to help you build something.
posted by cheaily at 5:16 PM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Or maybe something like FileMaker Pro? It ships with a number of templates, which can be modified (some more easily than others). Bonus: It's a lot easier to learn FileMaker development than Access development.
posted by mosk at 5:17 PM on September 14, 2011

This cat has definitely been skinned, and contact info is actually a fairly intricate database design problem, if you care to normalize it properly. Which you should not, because that's a boring problem to have. Leave it to bigger nerds and find an off-the-shelf solution unless you have a real need to build it yourself. Because even if you get the database built, then you're going to need a front-end to make it useful.
posted by yerfatma at 6:37 PM on September 14, 2011

I'd recommend registering a domain name for ~$10 per year, get Google Apps for free, and add any of about 50 different CRMs to your domain through the Google Apps Marketplace. Many are free for one user (Insightly, Zoho CRM, etc.), and you get to easily link against relevant documents and calendar entries in your Google Apps instance.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 6:50 PM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding Highrise.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:32 PM on September 14, 2011

You don't even need the Google Apps account for Zoho. I use the free version at
posted by COD at 7:51 PM on September 14, 2011

At a lot of universities many engineering programmes require a final, end-of-year project in order to graduate. Have you tried talking to your computer science or software engineering department and figuring out if you can help coordinate, with a mentor, a set of requirements that you can then hand of to a group of eager beavers for their project?

Perhaps you could even structure your requirements from a meta-requirements perspective; rather than asking for "a database to help me with X", you could specify "develop a solution that is readily re-usable by anyone who seeks to track X".

As an added bonus, encourage the mentor and the beavers to open-source their work on the Internet. It will make you all immortal, as I'm sure many others struggle with making rudimentary databases.
posted by asymptotic at 6:16 AM on September 15, 2011

The structure you're describing doesn't seem too complicated. The 'parent' table would be contacts. 'child records' would be 'points of contact' (initial, follow-up), and perhaps another table for 'pending issues' (I don't know your exact needs).

One option to get exactly the fields you want - quickly and cheaply - is to use some of the easy web-based database tools out there. You don't need to be a developer at all to use these. - has a free version, takes a bit of configuration - but has large community of developers and - full featured, again take some setup - very easy to set up, good interface - not as many advanced features as the other solutions

Good luck!!

posted by bwillman at 8:45 PM on September 30, 2011

« Older Great American Music Hall - Getting a seat   |   How much time do you spend budgeting and tracking... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.