Analytics startup Mode wants to give SQL a shiny home in the cloud

Mode, a startup that’s trying to be something like a GitHub for data scientists, has added new features to its collaboration platform that make it easier to write SQL queries and share the resulting reports. While that news in itself might not be too interesting, the company claims the new stuff represents a major upgrade for a service already popular among some well-known users.

The new features, explained here in a company blog post, really boil down to improving the workflow for data analysts. Among other things, users can now position data tables and the SQL editor as they see fit on their screens, easily edit schema and preview reports as they’re building them. A new activity feed, a la Slack or any other enterprise social platform, enables what Mode Co-founder and Chief Analyst Benn Stancil calls “implicit collaboration” — sharing reports and other work without expressly tagging individual colleagues.

A screenshot of the new report preview.
A screenshot of the new report preview.

But the bigger news in all of this might be the type of traction Mode claims it’s getting. It cites, TuneIn and Munchery as customers, and Stancil said Twitch does nearly all of its analytics via Mode. “Twitch almost certainly is operating at a scale near petabytes,” he said. “…It’s not like an Excel-sized thing by any means.”

The way Mode works, fundamentally, is as an overlay atop a company’s existing SQL data store. About half of the company’s users connect via their Amazon Redshift data warehouses, but systems range from MySQL to Cloudera Impala. “It works with anything that speaks SQL,” Stancil said.

I asked Stancil if Mode is acting as an alternative to [company]Tableau Software[/company] among its customers, and he said it only is to the degree that they’re both trying to simplify the process of analyzing data and creating reports. Aside from the collaboration angle, the biggest difference is the target audience, where Stancil sees Tableau targeting savvy business users while Mode is all about the data analyst.

“There are certain people,” he said, “for whom Tableau is more difficult to use than just writing SQL because you have to go through a UI that constrains what you can do.”

You can learn more about the companies building and the people using next-generation analytics tools at our Structure Data conference next month in New York. Speakers include Tableau Vice President of Analytics Jock Mackinlay, Interana CEO Ann Johnson and BuzzFeed Director of Data Science Ky Harlin.