Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

How NoFlo Aims to Make Building Software Easier

no-flo2I don’t usually pay attention to Kickstarter projects, but I ran across one recently that caught my attention. If you buy the argument venture capitalist Marc Andreessen has made that “software is eating the world,” then you can probably make the pivot that programming software itself should be easier and more readily understandable by people who aren’t software engineers.

That’s the idea behind NoFlo, a flow-based programming environment that makes blocks of code easy to arrange and re-arrange in a visual setup. Most software is born as a flow chart sketched out on a white board anyway, and then it’s turned into code using a text editor.

Programming using text is kind of old, and it works. But most applications — especially open source ones — are built with reusable sections of code that have been implemented elsewhere, so it’s only natural to create a development environment that makes the whole thing easier to visualize and conceptualize. In the NoFlo environment, all those sections of code are connected together on a graph that looks a lot like that flow chart from the white board.

When the coding process looks like that, people who aren’t trained to build software can see and logically understand what’s going on and can even have a say in the process.

The product is being built by a company called The Grid that has about $1.8 million in seed funding either secured or committed. One angel investor is Brian Axe, a former Googler who was director of products for AdSense and who also worked on Picasa and Google Apps. It also has a $100,000 Kickstarter project in progress to fund the creation of a new cloud-based version of its user interface, which will make the product more accessible.

Another NoFlo principal is Dan Tocchini, its CEO. One day he was working on some software and was frustrated with Ruby on Rails. He went looking for a flow-based programming framework to try out and found NoFlo on GitHub. It had been created by Henri Bergius. Dan and Henri started talking and soon a company was born to promote it as a product. I have a feeling you’ll be hearing more about it.


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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik