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Databases keep getting easier: Coghead

Online app and database platform Coghead is just outta beta.

When you go to the Coghead site you'll think I'm covering it because the home page says, "Join the Webware revolution." But Coghead is more than just a slogan I can get behind. It's a clean online application builder that takes the complex job of creating an online database and makes it almost simple.

No matter how straightforward the development tool, creating a database application is hard intellectual work. Coghead does a good job of getting out of your way so you can focus on your data structure and entry forms. It will still be intimidating for a database newbie, but if you have a smattering of experience with creating your own databases it should make sense.

Creating a simple database app in Coghead is pretty easy. There's a lot of depth in the system, too. CNET Networks

The service builds your database as you build your forms, and although it's not a relational database system (like MySQL), it does support a hierarchical structure so you can compartmentalize things (clients and salespeople, for example), and still link them together as appropriate. Forms can easily be embedded in your Web pages.

Coghead allows you to do more than just define a database scheme and build forms, though. It's not a programming system, yet it allows logic and process to be built into its database. This ensures that records in a complex application get routed to the right people, and don't have erroneous data in them.

The application runs in Flash (and was written in Open Laszlo) so you can use it on any Flash-capable desktop. It's not as fast as a desktop application or a lightweight HTML-based system, but for most small business applications it's at least as capable, if not more so, than any existing low-price database solution. One thing I didn't find in the current release, though: a reporting function. Even the single-minded online forms database app WuFoo makes it easy to create and run forms and export your data. I'd look for Coghead to add this capability soon (or make it more obvious if it's in there but buried).

Coghead is playing in an important--and new--market. There are interesting competitors here, including online suite maker Zoho, the pure-play online database DabbleDB, and Intuit's venerable QuickBase. Coghead CEO Paul McNamara also sees SalesForce.com's AppExchange as a competitor. Start-ups are still coming into this space, too: I saw a new online database, MyWebDB, at the Web 2.0 Expo. It looks like Coghead has good technology and the company has solid venture funding, including an investment by enterprise app giant SAP. But in this market it's far too early to call a winner or even pick a top three.

The service just came out of beta and single-user accounts are free. It's worth checking out.