AirTable Best Practices

Here are some bits of advice that I think will help anyone trying to model complex information systems in AirTable.

Pursue Referential Integrity Like You’re Building a Database

Referential integrity is a powerful concept. You should build your “base” as if it were a database in Postgres, Oracle or similar. You want your records to live in one place only. If you need to get their data, do not duplicate it. Built a series of associated records and lookups.

AirTable lookup fields can go one “leap” so, occasionally, you might wind up doing something that feels a little…hack-y. Nevertheless, hacks can get improved but dirty, duplicate data denies deletion decidedly. Don’t give in.

If you need help here, join the forums, but do not break this rule without good reason.

Enshrine Process Around Your AirTable Accounting

Some aspects of the accounting are missing from my description. How do we handle prerequisites? How do we handle multiple-ownership, etc? These questions are all particular to our particular base. Your answers are likely going to vary here.

We had the advantage of having tried to do this kind of work through spreadsheets and having been burned by some of the flaws described earlier in this document. To fix those technical shortcomings we had process to cover the gap. When we found a technically strong replacement, we were able to encode those processes because we’d spent the time to discover them. If you’ve not approached your team’s work with a process audit, you’re not going to find AirTable a silver bullet. You have to do the hard work. You might need to schedule time to make these discoveries for your curriculum. Bad process, bad artifacts.

Have Fun

I think AirTable is a lot of fun. You’re building an amazing graph of knowledge. In many ways, this is something I had thought the Semantic Web would do, but it failed to. I’ve gotten further applying some of the concepts of Semantic Web triple-stores in AirTable than that academic community has achieved in 10 years.

AirTable is an amazing tool!