Ultorg: A General-Purpose User Interface for Relational Databases
Guest Speaker: Eirik Bakke, Founder, Ultorg
The relational database is now 50 years old, yet remains primarily a tool for programmers. Its place is in the bottom of the software stack, serving as a general-purpose storage back-end for any kind of structured, domain-specific data: warehouse inventory, academic course catalogs, campaign finance reports, experimental results, and so on. On the front-end side, a relational database provides little help; for every new business domain, a programmer must be hired to write a specialized user interface. This is extremely expensive, and leaves relational database technology out of reach for many people, projects, and organizations.In this talk, I propose a solution: A single, general-purpose user interface that non-programmers can use to interact with arbitrary relational databases. The system, originally developed as a PhD project at MIT CSAIL, is a hybrid spreadsheet/database interface designed to generalize the “boring” data displays that are seen in traditional tailor-made database applications (“CRUD” applications). Using a small set of spreadsheet-like operations, the user can quickly produce the visual equivalent of any SQL-92 query, visualizations such as crosstabs, calendars, bar charts, and Kanban boards, as well as non-tabular multi-query visualizations such as forms, dashboards, and hierarchical reports. Application areas can be found in all manner of organizations: corporations, non-profits, higher education, science, healthcare, journalism, disaster response, public administration, and so on.This talk includes work published at CHI 2011, InfoVis 2013, and SIGMOD 2016.
Eirik Bakke is the founder and CEO of Ultorg LLC. Ultorg is the commercial successor to the SIEUFERD project at MIT CSAIL, which Eirik built as a grad student in the years 2008-2016, advised by David Karger. Currently, Eirik serves as Principal Investigator on an NSF Small Business Innovation Research grant. Eirik holds MS and PhD degrees from MIT and a BSE from Princeton University. Before fleeing to the US in 2004, Eirik evaded military service by spending a year as an end-user of an aquatically themed database application made specifically for the administration of public Norwegian music schools.
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