Material: GRID Spreadsheets run the world – Hjalmar Gislason

Wednesday, January 22nd, 02020 at 11:11 UTC

Hjalmar Gislason is the founder and CEO of GRID, where their goal is to empower people to turn their spreadsheets into beautiful web reports, dashboards and interactive applications. Prior to founding GRID he was a VP of Product Management at business intelligence vendor Qlik, whom he joined through acquisition of DataMarket, a company he founded in 2008 and built with an incredible group of people.


We’ve known Hjalli for a long time. He’s always been working on new and interesting things. He’s never gone the app route, it has always been about the Web, on the Web and of the Web. Because of that, he’s certainly been exploring those edges of what is possible on the Web and why the Web can be the ideal platform once you understand its properties.

GRID is the newest of Hjalli’s projects and at the time of the presentation it was still not yet in any sort of alpha release to the public. We invited him to demo and show-off what it was all about.

GRID is more than online spreadsheets, it focuses on a new type of customer. It sits in that spot between being a spreadsheet master, but not having the IT skills to make a website. With GRID you can use all your domain knowledge and get a lot of the Web and presentation for free.

Much of the Material conference has been exploring what those materials are so we can learn to build and target them as a consumer. With GRID, it is sort of doing the opposite. The actual customer focuses on their knowledge and GRID uses the Web as the Material to present, manage, share and make you look like a hero. GRID abstracts all the benefits of the Web away for your benefit and lets you focus on what you do best in spreadsheets.

Spreadsheets  Web

Is the Web run on spreadsheets? Is the Web mostly made up of spreadsheets? Is the Web just one gigantic spreadsheet?

All you Unicorn, full-stack developers, get ready to have your hearts crushed, because the number one sought after skill on resumes is Excel!

It is estimated that spreadsheets applications are 2% of all computer time. Which on an average work day is around 10 minutes. That’s a lot for a single application!

Spreadsheets have a long origin story, from Vizicalc which saved Apple, to Lotus 123, to Excel and now Google Sheets. Of all of these, only Google Sheets is native to the Web. All the others are using other cloud services in an attempt to get close. GRID see this as an opportunity to be a native Web application rather than a desktop app with sort-of Web functionality.

Two of the hottest words in programming these days are functional and reactive. Spreadsheets are both. As you change one cell, everything automatically re-calculates and re-draws all the other cells. Spreadsheets have also been proven to be Turing-Complete, so you can actually write programs in spreadsheets.

So what does any of this have to do with the Web?

When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. When we work on the Web, we might look at the calculations in a spreadsheet and say “I can do that in Javascript easily” and it certainly is possible. But once you are finished writing some functional and reactive Javascript, all you have is the logic. You still need to hook-up the output to HTML and style it in CSS and host it somewhere, setup a server, some backend code, have a domain, etc, etc, etc. You get all this for free in a spreadsheet, the logic and rendering.

GRID wanted to leverage the Web to give expert spreadsheet users super powers! I think we can all take this model and apply it to anything.

There are lots of groups of people with deep, deep domain knowledge, but that knowledge isn’t for working on the Web. As practitioners of the Web, how can we make our customers shine by using the Web?

Abstracting the abilities of people to collaborate in realtime, share documents and data and see the updates with instant feedback are all things the Web is great at and desktop software lags behind.

Bret Victor talks a lot about these ideas of instant feedback. Programming (right now) isn’t really setup for this. You have to write, compile, run, debug, fix the code and repeat. It would be so much easier to have running code that you an update and see the affects in real-time. GRID does this, but on top of spreadsheets. It does this using all the benefits and powers the Web gives us.

It is a perfect example of how to apply the same thinking to your own issues and domain expertise to build an incredible tool unlike anything before.

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