You may hear the terms "No Code" and "Low Code" thrown around by developers and entrepreneurs.
There's a lot of ambiguity as to what these terms even mean. To add to the confusion...
Hacker Noon wants you to ponder The Low-Code vs No-Code Platform Dilemma.
Betty Blocks has scientifically determined that No-Code is at LEAST 4 times faster than Low-Code:
G2 is keen on telling us how No Code and Low Code differ in the RAD world. That’s “Rapid Application Development”, for those who are clearly not RAD enough to know.
Kissflow (a “No Code” platform) isn’t exactly calling Time of Death, but you should know that Low-Code Isn’t Dead Yet, But It’s Not Looking Good.
In the other corner, Mendix (a “Low Code” platform) warns you that the issues with most no-code tools are that they often don’t scale well and integration capabilities are very limited.
Finally, Wavemaker throws its hands up and just asks the straightforward question: No-code vs. Low-code – Is there a difference?
Whenever I see a question headline, I think of Betteridge’s law: Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word “No". As predicted, Wavemaker takes another 863 words or 5,601 characters to conclude: “no-code platforms are no different from low-code platforms.”
Stop it. Just stop. How is any of this petty squabbling a good use of time? Do you, the reader, feel any wiser reading all this?
To be sure, there are plenty of people with financial incentive to gate-keep “No Code” vs “Low Code” to prop their side up while putting the other down. As are the “arms dealers” who happily feed the flames of both.
“No Code” Tools Let You Code
Look at how common it is to add code to “No Code” tools.
Webflow is the champion of the current generation of No Code hype and organizer of No Code Conf. Even they encourage you to add code snippets for doing everything from styling the scrollbar to updating copyright information.
But it’s not just for small things. The most popular integrations require adding code snippets. If you want to add a Members-only section to your site (for example, to make money off subscriptions, a pretty important use-case), you’ll have to insert Memberful or Memberspace or Memberstack’s code. The more integrations you add, the more you’ll be coding.
There’s Betty Blocks, the “No Code” tool that you’ll recall is convinced No Code is at least 4 times faster than Low Code. Here’s their CEO talking about Using Traditional Coding in Betty Blocks’ No-Code Platform. Here’s their webinar teaching you about foreign keys to set up SQL-like relational database schemas in Betty Blocks. At what point are you really just coding with a fancy IDE?
Does it seem counter intuitive that most “No Code” platforms offer “escape hatches” to do coding? This is just pragmatism at play. Users suffer when platforms don’t let them do the things they need to do, and code is the ultimate malleable interface between the platform and the outside world.
“Low Code” Tools Don’t Require Code
Look at how much you can do in “Low Code” tools without coding.
Zoho Creator calls itself “a low-code platform.” Yet you can run through all 6 videos of it’s How-To series creating, customizing, and sharing your app from scratch without writing a single line of code.
Appian is well known as the first publicly listed “Low-Code Automation Platform.” But when you watch its “Become an Appian Expert Fast” tutorial, you realize the entire 43 minute video doesn't involve writing a single line of code.
Does it seem counter intuitive that “Low Code” platforms don’t require code, but don’t market themselves as “No Code?”
You can listen to John Rymer, half of the Forrester Analyst duo that coined the term “Low Code.” According to him, they market-tested the phrase “No Code,” but “Low Code” simply appealed better with enterprise customers. So "Low Code" it was.
We’re On The Same Side
In general, you’ll find that the “No Code” vs “Low Code” branding mostly differs by vintage:
- Older companies (Appian, Zoho Creator, and others I surveyed were created before 2010) proudly wear the “Low Code” label today.
- Newer ones (Webflow, Betty Blocks, and others are post 2010) consider themselves “No Code” to differentiate.
- Then there are the snowflakes that don’t pick a side. Parabola just wants you to “hand off your routine data tasks by describing them”. Airtable is “part spreadsheet, part database.” Zapier lets you “connect your apps and automate workflows.” All these companies regularly get lumped into this space but try to be above it all.
The truth is all these companies are on the same side – enabling every business user to create practical applications faster and cheaper.
There’s even debate about what to call this kind of user – Citizen Developer? Visual Developer? Power User? NoCoder? - to differentiate them from the traditional developer.
But the world doesn’t split neatly into developer vs. non-developer, technical vs. non-technical.
You could be a nontechnical business owner. You’re not too great with "the computers." But you recognize that work can be cheaper, faster, more reliable and collaborative when done through software.
You could be a technical user. You don't code – but you are the sort who keeps up on the latest iPhone and Android specs. You have a strong opinion on the best productivity apps. You still recognize that there are unserved gaps in the available apps out there. If only you could make an app, you could serve your own need (and that of coworkers and perhaps many others).
You could even be a regular developer, tired of the traditional, buggy, slow way of doing things. You recognize the value of a fast MVP. Your time is best spent taking advantage of commodity UIs, APIs, and workflows. And your dev time is best reserved for the “last mile” of what isn’t yet available.
Regardless of your technical aspect, No Code and Low Code platforms are there to serve you all. They should be evaluated based on their ability to serve your needs, not on the amount of code they may or may not require.
This is not a Moment, It’s a Movement
There won’t be one big winner in all this. Every domain, every industry, every level of the stack is up for a No Code/Low Code transformation. This is a general movement to bring Human-Computer Interaction into the 21st century.
The problems that can be solved with software aren’t bounded by the ~150,000 bootcamp and computer science graduates per year in the US, or the ~30 million developers worldwide (0.4% of the global population).
The bar to beat is spreadsheets. The vast majority of humanity (numbering in the billions) is already very productive with Excel and Google Sheets. How can you do better than a spreadsheet?
You can make data entry and lookup more ergonomic on a mobile phone, our primary computing device. You can automate other processes on data ingress and egress (firing off an email, or sending a text, or scheduling upload processing in the background). You can design better guardrails around error handling, team permissions, and user generated content like photos and videos.
The key is to start with a clear idea of your needs, and work backwards. The buffet of No Code and Low Code platforms are out there for you.
My advice: Stop sweating the semantics. Start creating.