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Data apps

Modern spreadsheet tools
3 min read
Last update: Aug 28, 2023

In this guide, we will teach you how to use modern data apps beyond Google Sheets and Excel. We explain how to use tools like Airtable and their open source alternatives.

Difference spreadsheets and modern data apps

Spreadsheets used to be primarily for storing numbers. With modern data platforms, it is possible to create entire custom apps. As a digital organizer, you can now easily build dedicated tools for your activist campaign.

For example, you can use data apps to:

  • Manage your list of volunteers: build your own CRM to integrate new volunteers.

  • Keep track of projects: create a timeline, keep track of to-do's using a Trello-style Kanban view.

  • Moderate website content: set up your data app as content management system (CMS)

Traditional spreadsheets


Microsoft Excel is probably the most well known spreadsheet app. While it has many advanced features, it becomes more difficult to use very quickly. Other tools are often better suited when it comes to collaboration, automation and managing large amounts of data.

Google Sheets

Google Sheets is great for collaboration. And if you have a developer on your team, you can do much more using Apps Script, custom functions and integrations. However, if you do not have a developer, you might want to have a look at the modern data apps which are often easier to use for complex tasks.

Modern data apps

What are data apps?

  • Special views: sometimes it does not make sense to display data in boring rows, introducing... calendar views, maps, kanban, timelimes, Gantt and card galleries!

  • Automation: connect your spreadsheet data with any other tool.

  • Collaboration: manage access using user groups and collaborate with comments and version history.

Comparing platforms

Each data app offers slightly different functionality. Make sure to choose the tool that best fits your use-case.

Airtable (commercial)

Airtable is the easiest to use data tool from this list. View your data as a spreadsheet grid, calendar, card gallery, kanban, timeline or Gantt. It is also possible to create a form to collect data.

View data as: spreadsheet grid, calendar, card gallery, kanban, timeline or Gantt (support guide)

Baserow (open source)

Baserow is an open source Airtable alternative.


NocoDB (open source)

NocoDB is an open source Airtable alternative.


  • Self hosting: free

  • As a service: in beta

Directus (open source)

If you are looking for a data platform to use as headless CMS, make sure to also check out this list of headless CMS platforms.


  • Self hosting: Free if you host it yourself for small organisations (install using Docker)

  • As a service: $100 per month for unlimited users if you want Directus to host it for you.

View data as: spreadsheet grid, calendar, card gallery, map, kanban

Budibase (open source)

Budibase is a data app focussed on building internal tools.


  • Self hosting: Free or $16 per user for additional functionality (one-click install on DigitalOcean)

  • As a service: Free or $8 to $16 per user for additional functionality.

Rowy (open source)

manage backend database as spreadsheet


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