One Big Table: Tracking made simple

In our first blog post of this four-part series, we're going to explore One Big Table—a schema that's perfect for getting started.
More data is better—until it isn’t. Every doc we make has something known as a schema, or a blueprint for how our data is structured and accessed. If a doc is a house, schema is the floor plan. Without conscious consideration for schema, a doc can grow unwieldyーwith tables choked by inefficient calculations and data that’s hard to find. If you want a healthy doc that scales with your team, you need to be thoughtful about schema.

In Coda, this means understanding your data and deciding which building blocks you need to support it. For instance, a to-do list and a CRM are both tables, and yet the difference in data complexity signals that they may have different schemas: One you can make a single list, the other requires multiple tables talking to each other.

In this series, we’ll map the four most common schemas, from simple to complex, in the hopes of giving you—and your data—an edge. We’ll help you figure out how to choose the right schema for your data, and recognize when to evolve it. And hopefully save you the headache of midnight doc rebuilds.

We’ll begin with One Big Table. But you can also jump to
,
, or
schemas.

One Big Table

You open a Coda doc and see a blinking cursor—what now? If you’re not sure where to begin, turn to the One Big Table (OBT) schema. OBT is exactly what it sounds like, a single table that houses all of the data in your doc. And although it’s the simplest schema we’ll discuss, OBT can easily flex into another schema, allowing you to pivot to another data structure without losing your work.

OBT is ideal for:
Small projects
Small teams
Getting started quickly
Narrowly-focused information tracking

Learn a bit more about OBT in this Designing Docs video:

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Get the most out of your OBT.

If you’ve set up a spreadsheet before, you’re already familiar with the One Big Table structure. You’ve got your rows of things you want to trackーlike tasks or customersーand columns to describe them. But here’s where OBT diverges from a table in another tool.

Surface the most relevant data with a display column.

In Coda, you can use a
(signified by the bookmark symbol) to surface a specific set of data when referencing a row elsewhere in your doc.

This extra context comes in handy, particularly in large team docs. If you’re taking notes during a standup, for example, referencing the Feature display column from the GIF below brings in important dates and information from the OBT. To select your display column for your OBT, click the column name in your table, and choose
Set as display column
.

at-reference.gif

Visualize your data differently with views.

One Big Table doesn’t mean that you can’t visualize your data in different and interesting ways or break it down by subset! Coda’s view feature gives you the opportunity to segment and organize your data in many ways. So you can add a Gantt Chart view of your Product Roadmap table to visualize kickoff and launch dates. Or create a filtered view that only shows small efforts.

gantt view.gif

And Coda tables talk to each other, so everyone can filter out the noise and work in their preferred way—with their own customizable view—while still working off of a single source of truth.

A bit of inspiration.

One Big Table is a great starting point and a schema you’ll rely on for most of your docs. But we also want you to be prepared to stretch your OBT into a schema that might need your needs and scale even better, like the Star schema we discuss in our next post.

While you’re testing out your display column and table views, be on the lookout for OBTs in the wild. Here are a few of our favorite examples:
- Turn your OBT into OBC: One Big Calculator.
- Even the most impossible to-do lists lend themselves well to OBT.
- Tracking inventory is a bike ride in the park with this OBT and segmented views.


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