Question

What are your favorite ways to use software in ways it wasn't intended to be used?

I've used Google Sheets formulas to build HTML tables from lists of data for years—it's not the first tool you'd think of to build HTML, and yet it's one of the easiest ways to list stuff in a table, and pasting the same formula to every row is one of the fastest ways to make a bunch of similar HTML table rows.

Similarly, this week I turned Coda to a make-your-own-adventure story tool to test UX copy, with a table to words and sentences using spreadsheet formulas to fill in the blanks.

Sometimes the unintended use cases of software are the best. They let us use our primary work software for more than we thought we could at first, and help us get by without buying something new. And sometimes, that's the only way to get a unique job done.

What are some of the craziest things you've gotten software to do that wasn't exactly what it was built for?

Mentioned
#Coda #Google Sheets #SignNow
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AndyDentPerth's avatar
a year ago

It wasn't my idea but I worked with the scientists who did it - repurposing Computational Fluid Dynamics software designed originally to model flow through jet engines.

I worked for 4 years at CSIRO's Centre for Predictive Mineral Discovery who were trying to forecast where to find minerals (eg: gold) by modeling how minerals are transported and concentrated in the Earth. They used this software to model slow creep of minerals through cubic kilometres of rock.

2 points
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @AndyDentPerth )
a year ago

Woah, that's incredible. Think you won the discussion with the most advanced software repurposing!

1 point
AndyDentPerth's avatar
@AndyDentPerth (replying to @maguay )
a year ago

If I'd ever had delusions of being (one of) the smartest guy in the room four years at a scientific institution with the world's best was a great leveler.

1 point
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @AndyDentPerth )
a year ago

I bet! Makes the challenges of running your average SaaS business look tiny in comparison.

1 point
petersteinberg's avatar
a year ago

Excel.

It might be a bit of stretch to call it an app, but I suppose since one subscribes now to Office 365 it should count. ;-)

How do I use it in unintended ways? One of my contractors showed me how she uses it for laying out complex forms for various Signing platforms such as SignNow and PDFFiller.

By using Excel you gain a flexible grid where you can place your text with precision, draw boxes exactly where you need and want them, format text as well as Word or Powerpoint, etc.

And who knew? You can save out of Excel as a PDF. Pretty obvious but somehow in my 25 years of heavy Excel use I never needed to do such (that I can recall).

1 point
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @petersteinberg )
a year ago

That's a great idea. Would especially make sense for print-ready invoices and such, where you're doing the math in the tables directly and just need to add a bit more formatting to get the header and footer looking nice. I've read before that it's common to lay out documents in Excel in Japan—not sure if that's true in practice, but it does seem sensible.

1 point
-c-'s avatar
@-c- (replying to @petersteinberg )
a year ago

Same! I use Excel to produce pdf'ed investor updates and packets each month. Most people have no clue that they are produced in Excel, not PPT.

1 point
ybbond's avatar
a year ago

Chat App as Bookmarking Service.

Back then before I use Raindrop.io, I used to create a group in a chat app with me as the only member, and send interesting links there. I used LINE, a Korean (Naver Co.) messaging service.

LINE is popular in my country as the messaging service for teenages and early twenties, the older people use WhatsApp, while iMessage is not too popular because not all people use iOS, and the cost per SMS is high (IDR 150/sms). We don't use CDMA.

I often sent only links, as the app will show link preview like WhatsApp or iMessage. The problem is searching will be hard. Thus, sometimes I'd use #hashtags or put a short description as context.

Continuity is great, if not practical. If I saved the link on my phone, I can start the desktop LINE app to open the link there.

I think this is a practice people often do, as LINE created a new feature called «Keep Memo» that integrates the links/files kept in their built-in storage service.

1 point
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @ybbond )
a year ago

Yay another LINE user! It's used for everything in Thailand: Food delivery, cashless payments, and of course chat and calls.

That's a super clever solution to re-find things you've messaged yourself. I often message stuff to myself, both to save things and to move them between devices, but never go back and look at old ones (and haven't used Keep yet either). May have to give your hashtag idea a shot—thanks!

1 point
ybbond's avatar
@ybbond (replying to @maguay )
a year ago

I just know LINE is that successful there, is it like the WeChat of Thailand?
Here in Indonesia, we've got a service called GoJek that started as ride-hailing like Grab, but has expanded to food/package/medicine/masseuse delivery, cashless payment, but won't act as messaging service (or will it?).


The #hashtag won't do any auto-classification nor will it be clickable. Just a little help when searching.

With the Keep Memo, all you've stored will be searchable inside Keep. It provides simple grouping like Files, Videos, Links. You can also make collections of items.

But I think that's a hassle, no full text search and tagging too! Just use proper bookmarking service or note taking app that has web-clipper :D

1 point
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @ybbond )
a year ago

Not as advanced as WeChat but yeah, it's pretty hard to imagine not having LINE here.

It is interesting how everything wants to be a "superapp" these days—seems the endgame of every ride hailing and messaging service.

1 point
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