The history of NoCode

The history of NoCode

Everyone is born to build. An innate desire to create something from nothing. The creation of matter or substance where none existed prior. These creations can take many forms - the strokes of a paintbrush, the flourish of a pen, or even a mountain of mashed potatoes on the dinner plate. We all create, from our earliest ages to our latest. These may be creations generating value to others, those creating value for ourselves, or of no inherent value at all.

Some of the earliest creations I developed include a rocket propelled airplane, a supersonic race car, and a city of the future. All built, of course, with lego building blocks. Stacking these multi coloured and shaped building blocks, one by one, until the desire of creation matched the vision of play. Once a scattered collection of formed plastic, now stood the might of 5 year old engineering. Brought to life with imagination these creations made for fun memories with friends and myself.

NoCode may be a relatively new term, but it’s place in digital history is long entrenched. Using building blocks, just like legos, to make the process of creation easier.

Legos bring out the builders in many aspiring artists, engineers, and dreamers. Photo by Kelly Sikkema
on Unsplash
Legos bring out the builders in many aspiring artists, engineers, and dreamers. Photo by Kelly Sikkemaon Unsplash

What is NoCode?

NoCode development is the process of developing applications, websites, and more without actually writing code yourself. However just because you’re not writing code doesn’t mean that code isn’t being written at all. It’s just that the code generated is being generated in the background. Instead, what you’re presented with are visual cues that depict what is happening in the background.

These visual cues can be arrows depicting a logic flow, UI elements like text boxes or buttons that can be interacted with, or even visual databases that can look very similar to spreadsheets like Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel.

Grand Theft Xerox

Many of us take the modern convenience of computers for granted. Their relative ease of use, the now intuitive nature of pointing at something to command it, and even common analogies for groupings of objects, all stem from the humble work of a printer company. And a visionary product genius chumming the open seas for his pirate like plunder.

Computing of the 70s and 80s relied on keyboard commands to select and manipulate digital objects. It took the pioneering work of Xerox Parc, the product genius of Steve Jobs and Apple, and the market building of Microsoft to make visual interfaces a common stay of our notion of computers. “Files” were grouped into “Folders” that lived on your “Desktop” and could be discarded into the “Trash Bin” when no longer needed. You wouldn’t have to call directories or append files to access them - rather a click click here and a click there was all you needed. This visual methodology of computing made it a lot more accessible to a wider group of potential computer users. As a result, the number of computer users exploded after the release of the Macintosh in 1984 and again Windows 1 in 1991.

Spreadsheets leading the way

While it may be a cliche of office life now, Microsoft Excel and visual spreadsheet software are held by many as a pre-cursor of modern day NoCode tools. Compound averaging, complex calculations, and relational charts all stem back to work done by Apple, Lotus, and Microsoft, to make computing easily productive. Take a look at this early commercial for Microsoft Excel, saving business with projections created all in an elevator. Elevator Pitches?? More like Elevator Spreadsheets.

Saving the day with Elevator Spreadsheets.

Excel made computing easy by prepackaging equations and commands into formulas. The SUM command easily allows users to add multiple items together, while COUNTIF tells Excel to display a count of all items that meet a certain condition. Taken for granted today, but in a visual editor, absolutely revolutionary for it’s time. While these commands could have all been done with code prior, and even today, by making them visual Excel made them more accessible.

Creating the web

Most of the web today can trace it’s roots back to Wordpress. Whether it be it’s current form, it’s earliest version, or even where it’s architecture comes from. Wordpress changed the web and made it more accessible. It did this by creating an open source enterprise level blog publishing system. It would go on to adapt itself as a Content Management System catering to entrepreneurs and businesses of all sizes.

Mailchimp and Typeform made collecting data and engaging users more accessible to businesses and entrepreneurs. Mailchimp was one of the first to bring a visual management process to creating mailing lists. Email marketing campaigns became less technical, more scalable, and immensely more accessible. Typeform, and other early form builders, made data collection via forms and surveys a more prominent form of web interaction.

Images from Wikimedia and Typeform.com

Seeing the Web

WYSISWG or “What You See Is What You Get” popularized the sort of web development that we call NoCode today. By using a visual editor and prepackaged code components, builders could create websites by seeing exactly what they would look like while developing them. Geocities, Dreamweaver, and iWeb provided some of the earliest versions of these editors. Providing basic functionality, users could create static pages to create or brand their businesses.

Iweb from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IWeb

These editors became easier to use with templates that could be easily marketed. Wix and Squarespace have graced the ears of many podcast listeners with enchanting tales of the speed it takes to build beautiful websites.

Going a step further, tools like Sketch and Figma, released in 2010 and 2016 respectively, helped designers create a more visual web. These tools allowed designers to work with vector whiteboards with easy translations of designs for developers. By making great design more accessible the web became better looking and much more useable.

Image URL: https://www.freecodecamp.org/news/content/images/2022/01/image-41.png

Going back to basics

NoCode development has gone leaps and bounds in the past three decades, working to develop productivity tools, website builders, and ui designers. With focus on these areas, NoCode has also been instrumental in building and strengthening digital foundations. These include building NoCode platforms for:

Database Building: Google Sheets makes it easy to build simple spreadsheets that can be worked on as a database. This store of data can be use to build dynamic applications and websites with a multitude of platforms. Anyone that has used the Google Suite of tools knows how integrated Google Sheets actually is. Airtable as well has quickly risen as the new proper web-base of the NoCode breed. Visual, reliable, and with open API access, you can find businesses large and small running complex tasks on Airtable.

Documents: If you haven’t used Notion before, please do yourself a favour and check it out. By far the easiest way to do a lot of document heavy lifting with a lightweight application. Richly formatted text, a relational database, and a whole host of valuable templates. Notion can replace all of the document editors you use in a matter of minutes.

Automations: Zapier and Make have made automation building more accessible. By integrating a visual editor into hooking APIs together, many businesses have found significant time savings automating routine tasks. All without developers.

Payments: Stripe has taken the nasty task of managing payments and has reduced it into a single line of code. While not completely NoCode, their NoCode environments have made it so that many are able to run sustaining businesses without having to deal with the hurdles of collecting payment.

Notifications: Twilio released in 2008 has become a darling of tech. No more fussing over sending SMS notifications, automated phone calls, or even push notifications. Trusted by companies with market caps that would make even Bill Gates blush, their NoCode tools can be configured to keep your users engaged.

What’s here and what’s on the horizon

With all of the work being done to develop the NoCode ecosystem, where the industry was in years past is only a basis for what is to come. We are seeing tremendous growth in the space, where new tools are launched every single day.

Applications as a Service: Glide, Softr, Adalo, and Bubble, have reduced barriers to entry towards building both PWA - applications and Native Applications.

Data Analytics: AI and ML as a service will make data analytics hurdles a thing of the past. Watch out for Obviously AI in this space. Their AI off the shelf products rival million dollar custom AI projects of only a short 1-2 years ago.

Web3/Decentralized: While not as illustrious currently as it was this time last year, many still have their bets placed squarely on the potential of a decentralized web. ThirdWeb will help enable creators to develop NoCode Web3 tools.

NoCode Development at JMP Studios

If you’re looking for NoCode development for yourself or your company, check out JMP Studios at JMPStudios.xyz where we develop Unlimited NoCode Applications, websites, and automations for one monthly subscription.