Sharing things, and ourselves

There are two kinds of people in the world: those that think social is about sharing things, and those that think it’s about sharing our selves.
Like all one-liners, the statement above is a hopeless overgeneralization. But I think it helps to try to connect the dots on a lot of the commentary  about social tools and their impact on business and society. At the most banal, when we use a tool to share a file, or an event, or a task with another person, we are doing that: sharing a file, an event, or a task. Perhaps we can discuss that tool without exploring motivation and purpose, at all. But perhaps we can’t. Even if we don’t explicitly lay our use cases for the people sharing the files, events, and tasks that fill the social tool under discussion, aren’t the use cases implicit? Isn’t there always a user trying to make things, sell things, or find things? And doesn’t that user have some larger goal? Isn’t the tool a means to an end, like a forklift being used to build a building, a hospital or a cathedral? Aren’t all the use cases about people connecting, collaborating, communicating?
I think this dualism is inescapable. Yes, people are trying to accomplish life goals as they employ tools to share. Like tiny fragments of broken tiles,  pasted into mosaics, we really need to step back to gain a perspective so that the chips of blue, green, and red can form a tableau, and represent something larger, something more that the sum of its parts.
Writing about social tools is exactly like that. On one hand, we are discussing whether some product allows us to attach a file to a task, or whether a new solution integrates with Dropbox or Google Drive. We are down in the weeds half the time, or more, it seems.
But I am reminded of the quote from Oscar Wilde, ‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars’.
It’s the impacts of these tools — the way that they shift the workings of our minds and organizations — that pulls analysis up from being just a dreary obsession with features and their relative benefits. We are changed by the tools we use,  and potentially made better, wiser, kinder. So, there is a second aspect of this analysis, which is looking at the human mind and our attempts to connect.
This past week was a great example of that dichotomy, moving back and forth from a review of the specifics of collaborative tools to the larger questions of their impacts on us as individuals, or as a society.
I looked at a number of applications that allow us to collaborate in tightly defined ways:

On the more societal level, I explored a number of themes related to productivity:

  • Coworking is exploding and not just because it saves money for freelancers. Its real boost come from the power of supportive communities, and how those communities foster increased productivity.
  • I build on some thoughts of Anna Carlson’s on social learning, and suggest that 80% is eliminating fear, and 20% is regaining a childlike curiosity, or what Zen practitioners call ‘beginning’s mind’.
  • Sameer Patel dug into some of my earlier comments on the longevity of email, and makes the argument that social tools have just not gone far enough to obsolete email, yet.
  • I wondered if outsourcing your own job to a company in China (like the Verizon programmer, ‘Bob’) was really such a bad idea, and hand waved at a business based on that possibility.

So, another week of using a microscope to examine our tools and then a telescope to gaze at us, using them. It’s kind of a great job, really.

Dispatch is a social layer for file-based collaboration

I’m a great fan of the file sync-and-share apps like Dropbox, Google Drive, and so on. But these tools are pretty light on collaboration. Yes, I can invite you to share a document, but Dropbox doesn’t provide a discussion thread linked to that doc, and so we have to collaborate elsewhere, such as — ugh — email.
Many work media and task management tools have started to integrate with these sync-and-share (see Wrike is the newest to integrate Dropbox Chooser) although many still lack this, even now in 2013 (see Taking a test drive on Kickoff, a new team task management tool).
Even though Dropbox has 100 million users, they have decided — at least at this point — to allow a developer ecosystem to flourish using their Dropbox Connect capabilities. One of these is the small and simple document collaboration tool, Dispatch (dispatch.io).
Rather than a task- or project-centered take on collaborative work, dispatch is oriented to document collaboration. A user creates a ‘dispatch’,  document folder, and can share that with collaborators. Below is my list of dispatches. The blue dot indicates that Between Easton And Easton Falls has new updates, and the red circle with the one means I have notifications waiting.

My Dispatches


Clicking on the notifications I see that my colleague, Other Boyd, has left a new comment, marked with a blue dot.

Each dispatch is a series of posts, with the most recent at the top, like a blog. In this way Dispatch reminds me of Posterous, although a much better designed one.

Files can be uploaded — in the old dumb, pre-sync-and-share model — or can be linked from Dropbox, Google Drive, Evernote and Box. URLs and ‘Notes’ can also be posted to the folder, and all three of these objects can be commented on, viewed, followed, or downloaded.
Clicking on the header of a post leads to opening its own page, as in the one below, which is a file synced from my hard drive (the first of a series of short stories I am working on, for fun).

Bottom Line
I’ve used Dispatch on a real world project or two, and I really liked the tool in those contexts, which were very short-term, document-centric activities. There are a few other capabilities that I’d like to see, to get away from the ‘comments and revisions inside the document’ model supported by Microsoft Work, Apple Pages, and Google Docs. For example, I’d like to be able to select a word or section of the text, and link or refer to it in a comment, so that micro-level discussion would be possible. And at present there is no way to take advantage of versioning — although I have that capability turned on in my Dropbox account.
All in all, Dispatch can be a great collaborative adjunct to sharing files through any of these four services. I haven’t explored the other three, but if they work like the Dropbox integration, I wager that anyone who uses them will likely find Dispatch an essential tool for document-based collaboration.

Connectify combines Wi-Fi, 4G into a superfast wireless pipe

Philadelphia startup Connectify has turned to Kickstarter to raise funds for its latest PC connection management project. It’s developing software that will allow a PC to aggregate multiple broadband connections, ranging from Wi-Fi to 4G, into a single a high-bandwidth link.