‘Work Processing’ and the decline of the (Wordish) Document

I’ve been exploring a growing list of web-based tools for the creation and management of what most would call ‘documents’ — assemblages of text, images, lists, embedded video, audio and other media — but which, are in fact, something quite different than the precursors, like Microsoft Word and Apple Pages documents.
The big shift underlying these new tools is that they are not oriented around printing onto paper, or digital analogues of paper, like PDF. Instead, they take as a given that the creation, management, and sharing of these assemblages of information will take place nearly all the time online, and will be social at the core: coediting, commenting, and sharing are not afterthoughts grafted onto a ‘work processing’ architecture. As a result, I am referring to these tools — like the pioneering Google Docs, and newer entrants Dropbox Paper, Quip, Draft, and Notionas ‘work processing’ tools. This gets across the idea that we aren’t just pushing words onto paper through agency of word processing apps, we’re capturing and sharing information that’s critical to our increasingly digital businesses, to be accessed and leveraged in digital-first use cases.
In a recent piece on Medium, Documents are the new Email, I made the case that old style ‘documents’ are declining as a percentage of overall work communications, with larger percentages shifting to chat, texting, and work media (enterprise social networks). And, like email, documents are increasingly disliked as a means to communicate. And I suggested that, over time, these older word processing documents — and the use cases that have built up around them — will decline.
At the same time, I believe there is a great deal of promise in ‘work processing‘ tools, which are based around web publishing, web notions of sharing and co-creation, and the allure of content-centric work management.
Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 11.19.25 AM
Chat-centric work management, as typified by Slack-style work chat, is getting a tremendous surge in attention recently, and is the now dominant form of message-centric work technology, edging out follow-centric work media solutions (like Yammer, Jive, and IBM Connections).
Workforce communications — relying on a more top-down messaging approach for the mobile workforce — is enjoying a great surge in adoption, but is principally oriented toward the ‘hardwork’ done by workers in retail, manufacturing, transport, security, and construction, and away from the ‘softwork’ done by office workers. This class of tool is all about mobile messaging. (Note: we are planning a market narrative about this hot area.)
Today’s Special
Today, I saw that David Byttow’s Bold — a new work processing app — has entered a private beta, with features that line it up in direct competition with Google Docs and the others mentioned above. Bold raised a round of $1 million from Index Ventures in January 2016.
The competition is hotting up.
Work Processing Will Be The New Normal
What I anticipate is the convergence on a work processing paradigm, with at least these features:

  • Work processing ‘docs’ will exist as online assemblages, and not as ‘files’. As a result they will be principally shared through links, access rights, or web publishing, and not as attachments, files, or PDFs, except when exported by necessity.
  • Work processing apps will incorporate some metaphors from word processing like styling text, manipulating various sorts of lists, sections, headings, and so on.
  • Work processing will continue the notions of sharing and co-editing from early pioneers (Google Docs in particular), like edit-oriented comments, sharing through access-control links, and so on.
  • Work processing will lift ideas from work chat tools, such as bots, commands, and @mentions.
  • Work processing will adopt some principles from task management, namely tasks and related metadata, which can be embedded within work processing content, added in comments or other annotations, or appended to ‘docs’ or doc elements by participants through work chat-style bot or chat communications.

I am pressed for time today, and can’t expand on these ideas with examples, but I plan to do so quite soon in a companion post to this, called Work Processing: Coming soon to a ‘Doc’ near you.

Medium wins the fight between Amazon and NYT

Today was a pretty good day for Medium.
A cynic might think that the Medium spat between Amazon’s Jay Carney and the New York Times’ Dean Baquet is little more than another indication that the platform is becoming a soapbox on top of which #brands pretend to be people. This isn’t a fight between Carney and Baquet so much as it’s a public relations campaign from a tech company fighting against the paper of record’s reporting.
But there’s another interpretation: This fight, and the ones that will undoubtedly follow it, show just how pervasive Medium has become as a viable publishing platform.
Amazon could have released Carney’s remarks as a press release. Hell, it could’ve given all the information to a sympathetic publication that wouldn’t have minded to take the New York Times down a peg. Instead its senior vice president for global corporate affairs at Amazon decided to publish what looks like a personal blog post on a network popular amongst Silicon Valley workers. (Update: And now, yet another response from Carney.)
The decision is even stranger from the New York Times’ perspective. It’s not like the company doesn’t have a publication — most of it is a publication, for crying out loud — it could’ve used to respond to Carney’s list of complaints. Instead it made a Medium account for the paper’s public relations team, had the executive editor write a letter of rebuttal, then published it on a nascent social platform. The paper did link to Baquet’s letter on its corporate website, but that’s it.
“As you point out, we did a post on our press blog, PressRun, where this kind of response would normally live,” a New York Times spokesperson said when asked why Baquet’s post was published on Medium, “But we linked to Medium because we thought it made the most sense to continue the conversation where it had began – on that platform.”
Countless news pieces will be written as a result of this spat. (This is the second I’ve written in as many hours.) These stories will link back to Medium — unlike these anxious bloggers at the tops of some of the most influential companies in the country, most writers link to pieces they discuss or respond to — and could maybe convince readers to click around to see if anything else is worth reading.
There are all kinds of metrics one could use to gauge Medium’s success. The company says it prefers to use the amount of time people spend reading the posts shared to its platform. Others might look to the $57 million in funding raised by the company just last month.
Perhaps the fact that these two posts, from a company known more for its “no comment” responses to press inquiries and the man in charge of the country’s leading newspaper, were published on the platform is the best indicator for how important Medium has become.

Snapchat prioritizes its platform over its original content

Tech companies love to dip their toes into the fetid waters of media production. Sometimes that works out, as Netflix and Amazon have shown. Other times it doesn’t, which appears to be the case with Snapchat following a report that it has permanently shut down the in-house video network it debuted in January.
That network was called Snap Channel. It was supposed to relaunch after its  team moved into a 12,000-square-foot studio in Marina del Rey. Instead the channel has been shut down, the studio will be used by other Snapchat workers, and the 15-person team behind Snap Channel was laid off or reassigned. The channel was part of the Snapchat’s Discover network, which emphasizes byte-sized videos and animated GIFs. The network has been compared to a “cool kids table” that media companies fight each other to access — could that change now that even Snapchat has shuttered its own channel on the network? Probably not.
While some have interpreted Snap Channel’s demise as a sign of Discover’s greater problems, it seems more likely that Snapchat has decided to focus on building its platform instead of creating its own content. That’s hardly a surprise; tech companies often have to choose between one of those two sides.
Just look at Medium, which recently made a series of changes that could allow it to become an even more popular way for people to publish their stories. (It also, ya know, raised $57 million at a $400 million pre-money valuation. No biggie.) That company cut down on its editorial content production earlier this year by killing several sites, laying off writers, and reducing its budget for freelancers. Now it runs just two publications: the tech-focused Backchannel, and Matter, the science website it acquired in 2013 and turned into a general interest blog.
Medium went from a hybrid platform-publisher (please, god, don’t make me call them “platishers“) to being a straightforward platform. In doing so it reduced its costs, made itself less threatening to the media companies it’s wooing with new features, and was able to settle a long-running debate about its raison d’être.
Snapchat is probably doing the same thing. Instead of fussing around with content production — and taking up one of the valuable spaces at a table with intentionally limited seating — it’s focusing on the platform used to distribute that content. It likely isn’t abandoning Discover; if anything, it’s focusing on it.
Of course, there are platforms that have increased their focus on making original content in recent months. Vimeo announced three new shows earlier this month, and Reddit introduced a publication called Upvoted to stop sites like BuzzFeed from stealing content shared to its platform, among other things. These efforts make a little more sense than Snapchat’s, if only because both platforms are well-established and the companies can afford to split their focus.
And even when companies get original content right, like Netflix often does, it’s hard to please fickle consumers. Snapchat is essentially admitting that content is expensive, time-consuming, and hard to target at a broad audience. Owning the digital tubes that deliver that content to a bunch of eager, easy-to-market-to millennials, on the other hand, can be quite lucrative. It opted for the latter.

Facebook’s Medium-like ‘Notes’ revamp is yet another copied page

Facebook wants its users to forget they ever heard of Medium or Tumblr.
The company is testing a new interface for its previously-neglected Notes tool, which now bears a better-than-passing resemblance to Medium’s platform. But the real question is whether or not Facebook users want to start blogging at all on the service.
Facebook is effectively building a separate home for users’ longer — and presumably more thoughtful — content. Is it really feeling that much pressure from teenagers’ newfound love for the “blogging” of old, as Wired claims?
Probably not. It seems more likely that the revamped Notes stems from Facebook’s belief that it should at least attempt to Xerox every social media platform that Internet users pay even a little bit of attention to. This seems like a smart move, but resuscitating an all-but-abandoned tool reeks of desperation.
Facebook developed Rooms to rip off Reddit, built a business-focused service meant to supplant workplace communications tools like Slack, and is now reportedly working on a new service meant to tempt people away from Twitter — or simply stop its current users from visiting Twitter all together.
“Facebook knows people are already spending lots of time using Facebook, but a lot of the content (and a lot of the associated advertising opportunities) is still hosted elsewhere,” said Jackdaw Research’s Jan Dawson told Gigaom.
“So Facebook wants to bring more of [that content] within the confines of Facebook itself, both as a user retention strategy and as a monetization strategy,” he added.
Then the question becomes whether or not many of Tumblr’s and Medium’s users will turn to Facebook. I doubt many will for one simple reason: anything they write will be limited to Facebook’s network.
Medium is nice because it’s mostly devoted to long-ish blog posts. Many of its users think about what they’re writing, and anyone visiting the site is probably doing so because they want to read something worthwhile. Compare that to Facebook, where people are sharing images or half-considered notions about news they haven’t bothered to learn about beyond the headline. Where would you rather write?
Also, there’s the fact that Medium didn’t immediately open to the public. It allowed few writers onto the platform, acquired or started various publications, and otherwise worked to curate the experience first-time visitors would have. Facebook is doing that to an extent by limiting the new Notes’ rollout, but once a billion people join a service, it’s a little too late to show only the best content.
Then there’s Tumblr. That’s a creative space where people can write, share, and discuss anything they want without fear of judgment from friends or family. Users don’t have to share their real names, and they can present themselves however they want. Facebook’s network is built on the opposite principles.
So on the one hand there are writers who want their work to be appreciated instead of it disappearing into a mass of baby pictures, political ads, and the other conversational bile shared to Facebook each day. On the other there are writers who don’t want to expose their every activity to their social network.
Facebook caters to neither category. Besides, there isn’t much reason for Facebook users to write Notes instead of status updates. Facebook’s default unit of sharing has a 60,000 word character limit; I suspect many of the site’s users never come close to reaching that cap. Why bother writing in one section of Facebook’s site when it’s just as easy to write in another?
However, there’s also a good chance Facebook has another motivation, too: its desire to provide increasing amounts of content to its users.
The company has convinced publishers to post stories via Instant Articles instead of to their own websites, gotten many users to host videos via its service instead of merely linking to YouTube videos, and is now attempting to give indie writers the ability to post to Facebook instead of Medium or Tumblr. If it works, Facebook will look like a genius for being able to monetize user-generated written content better than most — and for doing it (presumably) without cutting those authors in on the revenue.
I suspect that potential genius will never be realized. Maybe some people will want to post something besides a status update, but it seems unlikely that there will be enough to pose a real threat to Tumblr or Medium. Another week, another Facebook copycat that seems destined to descend into mediocrity.

Medium gets a bit more Twitter-like, and a bit more blog-like

Medium has been known primarily for its long-form, magazine-style pieces — but founder Evan Williams says it wants to be a home for shorter posts as well, so it has launched several new features that make it more Twitter-like and more blog-like

The platform-publisher race is heating up and LinkedIn is gaining

Social platforms like Facebook and Snapchat are trying hard to become publishers or to host content from media companies, but one of the platforms that has been quietly doing this for years now — and continues to grow that side of its business — is LinkedIn

Obama touts fast networks, cyber security in State of the Union

Some familiar tech topics turned up in President Obama’s annual State of the Union address on Tuesday, including a pledge to build “the fastest internet” and the need to ensure hackers can’t “shut down our networks [or] steal our trade secrets.”

This year’s speech, which focused heavily on themes of education and the middle-class, also included shout-outs to four Silicon Valley companies — [company]Google[/company], [company]eBay[/company] and [company]Tesla[/company] and [company]Facebook[/company]’s Instagram — while praising America’s advances in solar and wind energy.

Obama also emphasized the need for more broadband in building the economy:

I intend to protect a free and open internet, extend its reach to every classroom, and every community, and help folks build the fastest networks, so that the next generation of digital innovators and entrepreneurs have the platform to keep reshaping our world.

An online version of the speech also included a graphic that hit a tech trifecta of open internet, crowd-funding and solar energy:

SOTU image

(Close observers of the net neutrality debate may note, however, that Obama’s speech did not repeat his call last year for the FCC to employ a common carrier law called Title II to ensure net neutrality.)

At a time when cyber security and surveillance remain front and center in light of the Sony attacks and ongoing Snowden revelations, Obama delivered what was perhaps a mixed message. On one hand, he called for tighter security and new laws to protect privacy:

We are making sure our government integrates intelligence to combat cyber threats, just as we have done to combat terrorism. And tonight, I urge this Congress to finally pass the legislation we need to better meet the evolving threat of cyber-attacks, combat identity theft, and protect our children’s information [..]

As Americans, we cherish our civil liberties?—?and we need to uphold that commitment if we want maximum cooperation from other countries and industry in our fight against terrorist networks. So while some have moved on from the debates over our surveillance programs, I haven’t. As promised, our intelligence agencies have worked hard, with the recommendations of privacy advocates, to increase transparency and build more safeguards against potential abuse. And next month, we’ll issue a report on how we’re keeping our promise to keep our country safe while strengthening privacy.

But on the other hand, the President did not address his government’s controversial policies to undermine encryption (which offers the best guarantee of privacy and security), and nor did he speak to the ongoing legal challenges to the NSA’s collection of meta-data and internet communications.

Another tech issue that failed to make the cut was patent reform legislation, which the President said in last year’s speech was needed to ensure companies could “stay focused on innovation, not costly, needless litigation.”

And while Obama did address drones, which are a hot topic for the tech sector, he only did so in terms of civil liberties, claiming the government has “worked to make sure our use of new technology like drones is properly constrained.”

Ultimately, the most memorable tech aspect of the speech may turn out to be how the White House delivered it: instead of following the past practice of issuing copies to favorite media outlets, the Administration posted it to the buzzy publishing platform Medium before Obama even delivered it, and invited the public to follow along and “tweet favorite lines.”

The year in media: 12 reasons why we should be optimistic

It’s easy to focus on the negatives in media — the mistakes, the downsizing at traditional journalistic outlets, etc. — but there were plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the media landscape this year, and here are just a few of them