‘Tooing’ beats teaming because all work is personal

I am infatuated with the power of the Tomfoolery.com credo, ‘all work is personal’. As we move toward a more cooperative approach to work, the collaborative premises will seem less helpful, and perhaps even a barrier to getting things done.

Consider for example the premises of teams and teamwork. The collaborative tool manifestation of teams is the creation of work contexts to which people are invited, and as a consequence of being a member of the group they gain certain capabilities, like seeing documents, or creating and pushing tasks (‘assigning tasks’) to others. In many cases, today collaboration tools don’t actually allow sharing of information except through membership.

I am heartened to see more tools that support extra-group sharing as a first-class modality. Asana, for example, supports the sharing of tasks (and subtasks) with individuals who are not members of the workspace or project where the tasks are defined. This allows Asana to be used as a personal tool — with all its rich task model — but without the slow-and-tight considerations of groups: ‘Who should I invite/exclude? I need to bring in Jenna to this group, but there are a few items here that I don’t want her to have access to, so I will need to create a different group, and move tasks from the old one to the new one.’ and so on. These are the sorts of costs that mount up in slow-and-tight organizations of work.

Because the term ‘sharing’ has so broad a usage, I will call this flavor of sharing ‘tooing’, as in ‘I have access to this task, and Jenna does too.’

However, by being able to simply ‘too’ tasks with those people that need them, and to drop the concept of a team, and a shared context, things get easier in some ways, and complex in others. For example, what if there are a collection of documents that are needed to be tooed in order to for the task in question to be done?

I think the answer to that will be a challenge for those planning to make future cooperative tools. The reality is that tools like Dropbox are rapidly becoming the virtual file store for cooperative and collaborative work approaches, and I expect we’ll see solutions coming there, like smart folders: I could create a list of docs to too with Jenna (and others) which are treated as if it is a Dropbox folder associated with the task, and Jenna could downselect a small set of files for a second virtual folder that she would associate with a subtask, and too that subtask with another contributor. Note that this virtual file capability could come from Dropbox, or from a tool like Asana or Dispatch that support dropbox integration or direct uploads. The ‘smarts’ could be managed by the app doing the tooing, and the files could be stored wherever.

As you might be sensing, this pulls the notion of membership inside out: instead of belonging to a group, the participants are in effect following a specific task and specific folder. And they work as individuals, tooing information through personal connections.

I saw an announcement from Dispatch.io, a NYC startup I am following closely. The announced that they were going to supporting the tooing of individual items within ‘dispatches’ (their not particularly helpful term for contexts). I went to see what they were up to and it’s not what I would have hoped for.

Dispatch items are (basically) files, links, or posts. These can have comment threads — which is the social aspect of the tool. I had hoped that I would be able to too any of these items with individuals on a case-by-case basis: especially the comment threads.

Dispatch implemented a tiny subset: you can too the file associated with a file item, but without the comment thread. And links and posts are not supported at all. Grr.



Perhaps this is an effort to counter the possible conflict in people’s minds with Dropbox functionality. But I think the way to do that is to offer a more cooperative model of work-oriented information tooing. Instead of using ‘dispatches’ as team contexts, I want to use them as personal thematic collections, more or less like tags, or Mightybell’s spaces. In some cases I will invite someone to share a whole collection, but generally my relationships are looser than that (or tooser than that).

My collections are longer-lived than project duration, in general, since my ‘work’ is largely independent of the projects I am working on. My research and my thoughts on it — even when arising from projects involving others — is my own: I possess it. It is not owned by some company, or mutually shared among the members of a group.

In a cooperative world, the participants dig their own holes, and own their own shovels.

I hope that the folks at Dispatch rethink that feature, and make it work more like an Asana task (more in ‘toon’ with the Asana task model).

Dispatch.io is now at the center of my work flow

I wrote about Dispatch.io last month (see Dispatch is a social layer for file-based collaboration),  a small and simple work media tool. At that time, I considered the tool as being principally about sharing files and comments about them, but with a new release, I have changed my mind, and consider Dispatch.io to be more of a lightweight work media tool that naturally complements use of task management tools, like Asana, Do, and Producteev.

Let me back up a bit, and summarize what Dispatch does. The tool allows a user to share three sorts of things: files (either uploaded or Dropbox-linked), URLs, and notes (text posts, more or less). All of these things can have comments, which provides social context about their contents, where users can participate in a discourse about the content.

Recently they upgraded the user interface, and I opted to move my packrat ways onto the platform. It has been an interesting and productive transition. Most importantly, I saw a natural partnership between Dispatch.io and my use of Asana.

  • Asana is a great tool for task management, but it supports only tasks. Yes, tasks can have links and notes, but those are supported only as elements of tasks. There is no way to create a note in Asana outside of a task.
  • Sometimes I would like to — for example — take notes during a meeting for phone call, and relate that with several tasks in such a way that the note persists, even when the tasks are completed and archived.
  • Complementing Asana with Dispatch.io does this trick.

Here’s what I do. The example above — meeting notes and tasks — is straightforward:

I create a note within a Dispatch.io ‘dispatch’ — which is a topic, or project — and I share it before the meeting. Note that Other has made a comment.

dispatch 01


I take notes during the meeting in one or more comments (and so can the others I am sharing with). During the meeting or after, I can create Asana tasks that reference the Dispatch note. I use the Asana Chrome extension, and can do that with a single mouse click. The link to the Dispatch.io note is automatically added to the Asana task,  although there’s a bit of cutting and pasting to save the URL of the task, and post in the Dispatch comment.

dispatch 02


The reverse techniques is something I’d like to do — create a note about an Asana task in Dispatch.io using a Dispatch.io bookmarklet — but currently that doesn’t work because Asana resolves to ‘https:’ and that throws off the bookmarklet. However, it can still be done manually.

Bottom Line: Why Is This Good?

There are several reasons that this approach suggests something more than a dog walking on its back legs.

First, I want to be able to have different, best of breed solutions for task management and work media. Yes, I would rather that the folks at Dispatch.io would take a look at the Asana API, and figure out how to create and promote an integration with that tool, so I don’t have to do anything manually, but in the meantime creating the task in Asana pointing back to the note, or file, or URL in Dispatch works easily, and probably is as few clicks as an integration would be.

Second, there are a surprising number of instances where the discourse about a project includes all the members of the project, but my task list associated with the project involves a subset of the participants, and sometimes only me. This is an interesting and problematic use case. Let’s imagine that in the Jones Top Secret Project that’s the case: I would simply not invite anyone to share those tasks in Asana. Or maybe I would only invite my partners at stoweboyd.com to see those tasks, but no one at our client, the Jones Company (this is a very normal use case).

So Dispatch.io has now become one of the centers of my work flow. On a daily basis I am, for example, adding dozens of URLs to a long and growing list of ‘dispatches’ that proxy for areas of inquiry. These include ‘social’, ‘urbanism’, ‘future of work’ and dozens of others. I will add a URL from a Nilofer Merchant  post at HBR, and make few notes:

dispatch 03

I might follow that with an Asana task, reminding me to write a post here at GigaOM, responding to Merchant’s piece.

And I have started to share PDFs of papers with other people whose opinions I value, and we create a stream of discourse in a shared dispatch:

dispatch 05


[Note that Dispatch.io now supports @mentions, so that people will be alerted that they’ve been mentioned even if they aren’t following the particular thread involved.]

So, Dispatch.io has edged out a number of other tools I have used in the past to become a central element of my work. I only wish that tools like Flipboard would start to offer it as a ‘read later’ alternative, in which case I might stop using Instapaper. Being able to share and discuss things is simply better than just saving them to read later.

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