Hypernumbers Revisits an Old Classic: the Spreadsheet

The spreadsheet application within Google Docs must be the most well known and most commonly used online spreadsheet. A bit like Google Search, the Google Docs spreadsheet dominates the online spreadsheet market. But also, a bit like Google Search, we occasionally we see companies coming along and trying out in an already dominated space. With the resource that Google has at its disposal this is a very tough market, but Hypernumbers, an Edinburgh based startup, is trying to do just that with its online "team" spreadsheet.

Hypernumbers is building a collaborative spreadsheet from the ground up as a native web application. It offers a host of features including role-based collaboration, easy consolidation of changes, four different views of the data (spreadsheet, input wiki, table and web page) and simple one-click publication of spreadsheets. This doesn't deviate too much from the features available in other online spreadsheets, but they do differ in one very interesting way as Gordon Guthrie of Hypernumbers explains:

"It differs from the online spreadsheets like Google Docs because in Hypernumbers HTML is a native datatype so you can use functions like =twitter.button("hypernumbers") in cells to create web components. As a result you can embed Google maps in spreadsheets and then publish them as web pages."

The team at Hypernumbers is looking at how to make APIs available to non-technical users and to enable them to mash up their own data with APIs and publish the results. Gordon explains this further:

"We [Hypernumbers] are looking to partner with API providers to help make their APIs available to end users - in particular for use cases where the end-user might want to consolidate data from many different sources. Of particular interest is full-pass through integration where several apis might be used to provide locational information via server-side integration with the results displayed on maps via client-side integration"

Although Gordon is looking to integrate with other APIs and in doing so expose Hypernumbers' own API, he is looking beyond just the API to how this will affect the spreadsheet user.

"Our API play is at an early stage and we are looking to build relationships with other startups with a view to adding long-term value to the market by moving mashups firmly into end-user territory so get in touch for a chat or a demo."

The combination of client-side mashups built upon server-side API integration, all available to a non-technical user with basic spreadsheet skills seems a promising field for building new and interesting web applications. Companies sometimes expose an API without fully considering how the information it exposes or consumes will impact the end user of an application. This is clearly absolutely key to Hypernumbers, as any API integration will ultimately need to be exposed to the spreadsheet user through a simple syntax, the spreadsheet formula:


Be sure to read the next Tools article: The Semi-Unofficial Facebook Graph API Explorer


Comments (4)

Interesting! We've been working on something similar to this for a while, but hadn't properly investigated Hypernumbers (which is silly, given that we're just a few hundred miles away in London).

We've taken a slightly different tack, though: our original desktop product, Resolver One, combines a Python programming environment with a spreadsheet -- so cells can contain any kind of Python object, from lists to functions to objects -- and we decided to bring the same idea to our "programmable cloud spreadsheet", Dirigible. So it's more of a tech-focused product than Gordon's, with less of a team aspect (at least so far).

Obviously, being online, we've been able to add a decent API -- each spreadsheet has a URL, so you can make a query saying "plug these numbers into the sheet, run it, and give me the results" and get the response back in JSON. We were able to take further advantage of this by making this a simple function that people can use in their own spreadsheets: because recalculations happen on our servers, and cells are processed in parallel, one sheet can "call" other sheets like functions and aggregate the results, and the other sheets can all run on different servers in our cloud. Our normal example of why this helps is that you might have spreadsheet to price some kind of financial instrument, which takes 2 seconds per instrument, and then another spreadsheet that contained a list of 100 of them. Because the latter spreadsheet can delegate its work to copies of your pricing spreadsheet running on other servers, it can recalculate in just 2 seconds instead of 200.

The funny thing is that we'd never realised that having a simple API for our product would bring that kind of advantage until we wrote it. Lesson learned, I suppose...


At Hypernumbers we are trying to make it easy for the non-technical person to applicationise their spreadsheets and build out web apps themselves using the spreadsheet-style interface.

If you contact me directly (+44 7776 251669/gordon@hypernumbers.com) I will give you a demo of some of the stuff we can now do. The product has moved on quite a bit since this article was first posted.

I'll have to keep an eye on Hypernumbers and see if any of my current vendors have the manpower or interest to work with it.

I am a business user with limited technical capabilities and do most of my work in Excel and some in Google Spreadsheets. I reluctantly moved to Google spreadsheets as I started traveling more and needed to collaborate with my boss on calculating and distributing earnings statements to my sales reps/affiliates.

The only reason we moved this to Google was because our software vendor actually made their app work with Google Spreadsheets (see following for the software http://www.google.com/enterprise/marketplace/viewListing?productListingI...), otherwise we might still be on Excel. Part of this may be luck as I just happened to reach someone at this vendor on the phone who actually warmed to the idea and somehow got it done. I don't expect this to be a typical scenario.

How do you suggest I get vendors to embrace new platforms like Hypernumbers or do I just need to find one person at the company to work on it as a skunkworks project?