is a minimal microsyntax-based work management tool

I got an email this week from an old friend, Lars Hinrichs, the founder of Xing, the CEO of Cinco Capital, and the executive geek of HackFwd, introducing me to a new product, is a product incubated by HackFwd, and now available for general use.

There’s an appealing simplicity in, a work management tool based on an underlying microsyntax of @ for user mentions, # for tags, and & for projects. (I coined the term ‘microsyntax’ in 2007 to refer to conventions like ‘RT’ and hashtags in Twitter, but the same ideas can be applied in work management tools, like

There are two sorts of social objects: tasks and notes, and one sort of context: projects. These microsyntactic elements are placed directly in the text of the task and note text region: they are not managed as metadata.

Screenshot 2013-10-21 13.19.37

The user must click on ‘[+] task’ to create a task, and similarly on the corresponding buttons for notes and projects: there is no simple ‘update’ field, which seems to some extent to counter the nature of microsyntax. Why, I wondered when I started to use it, didn’t they simply designate another special character, say a double quote, to denote that a post is intended to be a note? And then all others would be tasks?

Here you can see autocompletion of a hashtag. The mentions and project names also autocomplete.

Along the left hand side you see various navigational controls. We are looking at ‘recently added’. User defined filters can be created, based on projects, hashtags, and mentions. A filter can be created by clicking on those elements, but not manually. These can be saved, as are ‘donut recipes’ and ‘beacondonuts’ in the screenshot. Strangely enough there doesn’t seem to be a way to search for a particular string of text.

For reasons I can’t fathom, notes are limited to 2000 characters, which would seem to force people to create and manage longer format text as file attachments, which I dislike on many levels. Note have functionally no styling, although the first line is bolded and larger, like a title. They do support file attachments, and they plan for integration with services like Google Drive and Dropbox. I did not explore the attachments much but the native implementation is minimal: no versioning, for example.

The output of a saved filter can be published to the web for others — even non-users — to see. And that publishing is dynamic, so new entries will appear there. Here’s an example:

Screenshot 2013-10-20 14.50.38

The Bottom Line

Some of what is missing in is simply not there yet, and on the way. But some of my misgivings about the product is that the designers made decisions that limit users far too much.

Glaringly missing — by design it seems — are a number of social features like streams, comment threads, notes, the identity of who created an object, and messaging. When people are mentioned in notes and task they receive a link to the object in their inbox (and if they send one, in their outbox). But arbitrary chat style messaging is missing.

In an email, one of the founders, Birgit Güth, explained the ‘no comment field’ as an attempt to avoid a more complicated user experience. Likewise, instead of subtasks and duration of tasks, they recommend that user experiment with the use of tags to accomplish the same. Hmmm. My natural inclination is to revert to earlier reasoning, and state that subtasks, comment threads and messaging are necessary scaffolding, part of the bedrock needed to effectively work socially (see Setting the bar for team task management apps).

Adding the ability to link tasks to notes and vice versa would also be helpful, and might counter some of the issues arising from the ‘no comments’ approach.

No social tool design survives contact with the users, so I am betting that relatively quickly the rough edges and missing pieces will appear in, and then some of the more clever features — like the microsyntax, and web publishing — will feel more natural and less like semi-independent ideas smooshed together into a single web app container.