NOTE: As of 12/18/17, Coda is in closed Beta. Request access here: https://coda.io/signup.
What is Coda?
Not to be confused with the code editor Coda 2, Coda.io goes out of its way not to refer to itself as a database. This wording might be carefully chosen to avoid scaring away novice users who will be integral in making Coda a team-wide solution instead of a niche tool for power-users. That said, Coda can be best described as something of a cross between a database and OneNote.
Like OneNote, you can place tables anywhere in your document and like a database, you can refer back to them from anywhere else in you doc, including from other tables, “views,” and even from references embedded in the text of you document. Coda tables are “fundamentally different than a grid in a spreadsheet” is how their intro video starts. Indeed, Coda tables are not just a grid where you can place any data you want. Instead, “rows represents a single item, like a person, place or thing.” Anyone who’s used a real database (or just MS Access) is already familiar with this concept, but it’s a good effort to simplify it for non-technical folks.
“A New Day for Docs”
Although Coda tables look a bit like MS Access, there’s a lot going on under the hood that makes it more user-friendly. Lookups (selecting from a list defined in another table) work intuitively. References use real names like “TaskList.DueDate” instead of cell references like “A1:C4”. Common functions like Today() and NetWorkingDays() make working with dates easy. Coda also support basic collaboration features like multiple users, comments, version control and view/access control.
In a world where most apps either go after the power-user directly (e.g. Atlassian’s JIRA), or try to make things painfully simple (Trello, now owned by Atlassian), Coda is refreshing because it abstracts just the right amount of details to make it approachable, while leaving plenty of depth to learn over time. Some examples of power features you might discover after a few hours include: controls that can filter tables, conditional formatting that is inherited from a table to its views, and recursive lookups that shouldn’t work (but do). Row metadata like when it was created, edited, and by who, is stored in the background, so even if you forget to document it as you go, adding a “Created by” column automatically populates all the rows without any work to back-fill information.
You might be asking, so what can Coda be used for? Just about anything that would normally need both a spreadsheet and a doc. Their example gallery offers a few dozen examples ranging from sales trackers to onboarding checklists to wedding planners. While it doesn’t replace the full word-processing power of MS Word, or the deep analytical functionality of MS Excel, it does marry them in a beautiful way.