Google Keep and Slidebean add sharing

Two apps that I use frequently — Google Keep and Slidebean — have recently added sharing options, making them immensely more useful.

Google Keep

Google Keep is a small and simple note keeping tool. My principal use is for taking notes during calls or meetings. I could use a text editor like Apple’s TextEdit, or note tool like Simplenote or Evernote, but I find the simplicity of Google Keep appealing. And, most importantly, Google Keep notes have their own URL while in edit mode, which means I can assign myself a task (in Todoist, in my case) that points back to a note. Here’s a note opened to edit, and you can see the URL in the navigation box.

Screenshot 2014-11-21 11.15.23

The new feature is accessed by clicking on the ‘+human’ icon at the bottom of the note, which leads to the sharing panel. Because it’s a Google tool and I use Gmail, all my contacts are accessible.

Screenshot 2014-11-17 15.01.50

After sharing, if another participant makes edits, that is indicated by a gradient and an edit timestamp, like this:

Screenshot 2014-11-21 11.24.17

And once I edit it, that gradient goes away: a simple signally mechanism that indicates the state of the note.

So, a simple sharing feature — which I only wish included the option for a specialized message at the time of the invitation to share — makes Google Keep immensely more useful.

Slidebean

Slidebean is a small and simple presentation tool, one that divides the formatting and the content of a presentation in a clever way. You add content first, and then select a from predefined templates that automate formatting, transitions, color scheme, and so forth. It’s similar to Slides.com (the former rvl.io, see rvl.io is an amazingly small presentation solution), and Bunkr.me (see Bunkr is an innovative small-and-simple social presentation solution).

Here’s a presentation I recently gave, ‘A Brief History Of The Hashtag‘. Note the warning indicators in red saying my bullets are too long.

Screenshot 2014-11-21 11.33.01

In the screen below, I have selected the template, colors, and font. Everything else is done by Slidebean.

Screenshot 2014-11-21 11.36.55

And finally the Publish step, where I also can share the presentation with coeditors. The presentation is public online, so take a look to see how different sorts of slides are treated. Here’s one as an example (note that I changed the template):

Screenshot 2014-11-21 11.46.03

This also shows the controls that visitors will see when viewing online, including fullscreen mode.

Slidebean’s sharing and private presentations are Advanced or Pro feature. Advanced is $119/year, Pro is $199/year. That’s a bit pricey, but I like the simplicity of the tool. And sharing is critical for people making joint or company presentations.

 

Planleaf is a small-and-simple email-based task management solution

I got an email today from Omar Qureshi, the CEO of Planleaf, a Waterloo Ontario-based start-up with a small-and-simple task management solution built entirely on email. There is no sign-up, no download, nothing to install.
Creating an email like the following, sending it to one or more contacts, and cc’ing planleaf ([email protected]). Tasks are indicated by putting a dash at the start of a line, assignment is made by ‘@first name’, and due dates by putting a date in parentheses, like ‘(Jul 3)’.
Screenshot 2014-07-03 16.47.22
Screen Shot 2014-07-03 at 10.52.14 AM
In the example above, one of the tasks has a deadline of ‘Jul 3’ which was created by adding ‘(jul 3)’ to the text of that task.
The following is what you see when you click on the box to complete a task: the result is a reply formatted to indicate the task is completed and which is sent back to Planleaf for processing.
Screen Shot 2014-07-03 at 10.52.30 AM
You can also add or edit the tasks list, which is — again — handled as a reply with a special email account that indicates the identity of the tasklist.
Screen Shot 2014-07-03 at 10.53.16 AM
There is a daily digest sent for all of your active Planleaf tasklists, which you can also request on demand:
Screen Shot 2014-07-03 at 4.32.43 PM
The Bottom Line
I haven’t used Planleaf in a production setting, so I can’t evaluate exactly how it would play out. But from the simple examples I created, and the interaction I had with Omar, suggests that the tool is amazingly small and simple, with functionally zero ramp up effort.
The fact that any participant can edit any task in a shared tasklist, up to and including deleting everything may seem a bit dangerous, but on one hand, it’s quite egalitarian, and on the other, since every edit creates an email, in case of a disaster any of the participants could go back and find the previous version, and repost it.
I guess I’d like to be able to keep a history of the text versions somewhere more user friendly than Gmail, but that’s a more general complaint.
I asked Omar about his roadmap, and he shared this:

Here are a few of the major items/requests:
– We’ll be adding support for notifications on tasks; you can get email notifications for time sensitive tasks
– We’ll be adding a web view for the product, quick access to your lists on the go (this however doesn’t detract from our insane email focus!)
– Building out the enterprise/business version of Planleaf (unlimited usage, custom branding and potential white label hosting; so like [email protected])
I wondered if that would be enough functionality, and he replied,
– Yes we totally thinkso, especially for the type of tasks and workflows we’re focusing on. This is just what people want/need, a dead simple way to push tasks to absolutely anyone.
– We feel all other tools totally missed this segment of tasks. Short lived and adhoc tasks are just not worth the burden of going into traditional tools . We have people using Planleaf to quickly plan social events as well. Which is awesome.
He added that email has 2.5B users: the most ubiquitous platform on earth.
With a web interface for seeing the status of things — for power users, at least — I think it might be a good solution to the ad hoc task sharing issue that makes other tools seem so heavyweight, and as a result, people work together through unstructured email. This is way better than that, but remaining minimal.

Gitter is a GitHub-based chat tool for developers

I pinged Mike Barlett of Gitter, a GitHub-based chat tool, now in limited beta, and we chatted about the tool which is geared to use by developers. Gitter is a shining example of deep and narrow social tools that serve a specific sort of constituency very, very well. In more than a few ways it reminds me of Slack, which I wrote up last year (see It’s getting even more real time: Slack and Skwiggle).

As I recently wrote, we will see a steady departure from horizontal, shallow social layers grafted on top of enterprise applications: the social collaboration architecture. This migration is happening because that architecture is not based on the shape of our work, but instead, 20th century structures of control:

Stowe Boyd, Beneath the chatter about the Future Of Work lies a discontinuity

By the ‘shape of the work’ I mean two things: 1/ it doesn’t reflect the work activities or products, necessarily. Consider a piece of software under development in GitHub, or a magazine issue being developed in Adobe Creative Cloud: the environment for work is built-to-hand: it fits the form of the work being done. And 2/, it doesn’t necessarily reflect the way that each individual spins a working set of cooperators to get their own work done, and how these sets combine to form scenes, in which large numbers of overlapping sets are connected, socially, toward emergent ends.

We will see more cooperative work, supported by loosely connected, small and simple apps, a break with the model of enterprise software vendors. Not because people want apps that remind them of Snapchat or Foursquare, but because people are doing work at local social scale, not across an enterprise, in general.

So Gitter perfectly matches this observation, since it immediately inherits the shape of the social groups operating around GitHub instances. It simply relies on the social identity within GitHub, and them creates IRC-like chat rooms for public and private repositories. And its UX is organized specifically around sharing things that developers care about, like sharing and commenting on code and GitHub’s notion of issues.

In this screenshot you can see the issue number #32 is mentioned, and mousing over pops the description into context. (Click on image to enlarge.)

gitter

And here, below, you can see code pasted into context, with the formatting and styling retained.

gitter2

I only had a short demo, but there are a long set of integrations — like that with Trello, the task management solution — and other features. Here’s a list from the website:

Know who’s seen any message. Edit messages after you’ve sent them. Webhook integrations with Jenkins, Trello and more. Automatically embeds content like YouTube, pictures of cats and other stuff. Did we mention our smart [email protected] Batched notifications. Won’t annoy you by making your phone beep on every message. Awesome emotigifs. Infinite chat history stored in the cloud. Searchable too, naturally. Oh, and a unified activity feed. Phew, that’s a lot.

I found it interesting that Bartlett started the parent company Trou.pe with the goal of building a more general tool — the sort used to communicate and work socially across the spectrum — like a Yammer, IBM Connections, or the like. Then, for the needs of the developers building it they did a loose integration with GitHub, but then realized that they would be creating more value for a narrower community  by deeply integrating with GitHub. And Gitter was born in one two week experiment. The response has been very supportive, Barlett says, and they signed up over 30,000 after announcing the beta.

I can’t be sure that Gitter is the one-Github-chat-tool-to-rule-them-all (yes, I saw the Hobbit the other day), but I am pretty confident that this sort of solution — those that are shaped by the work and not the outmoded structures of organizational control — will grow in use. And over the next year or so, the major enterprise software players will do more than pay attention: they will reformulate their product strategies around small-and-simple tools that are loosely connected, but which support deep and narrow work.

Opal is a small and simple social brainstorming application

Opal is a small and simple social ‘brainstorming’ web app that allows a group of people to create a bunch of ideas on some theme, and then to comment on them, ‘like’ them, or to create new ideas based on earlier ones. The social side is well thought out, supporting comment threads on the ideas, and direct messaging for back channel chatting. The tool dimension is small but smart. For example, people can add images to ideas, so drawings or charts could be included easily.
Someone has to start the brainstorm, name it, and invite others. Here, I’ve created one for a hypothetical conference (but not mythical or fictional conference):
opal
When I created the conference I invited my alter ego — Other Boyd — and added an image. I made the brainstorm ‘private’ but they can be public (meaning visible to other users in your Opal membership).
When setting up the brainstorm you can stipulated questions that need to be answered, like ‘Where should we hold the conference?’
questions
 
I left on the ‘allow crazy, unrelated ideas and insights’ because that’s how I roll. Specific people can be notified of particular questions by the organizer, too, and the questions can be reordered.
Once others join the brainstorm, they can offer ideas as answers to the questions, and comment on those.
idea
 
At the bottom of that screen you can see the ‘build on this idea’ button. Here’s an example where one user is building on the idea of another: in this case Other Boyd built on Stowe Boyd’s New York City idea, suggesting the 92nd Street Y as a venue. Then Stowe Boyd ‘liked’ that idea, selecting ‘Dead On’ as a motivator. (Note: the motivators are editable by the Admin.) If you look at the bottom right of the New York City idea, you can see the number one next to the three box icon that represents building on, indicating that one other idea has been built on to that idea.
motivators
Users are notified when others comment on their ideas, or respond to their comments. Opal also supports direct private messaging, like this:
private conversation
The final feature of Opal is perhaps the best, which is a way to synthesize ideas into ‘themes’. In the case of my hypothetical conference, I might want to collate ideas that grew out of an earlier conference, like this:
synthesis
 
Even better, Opal allows a new brainsorm to be launched based on a synthesis like this. (Well, it does in principle, but I was unable to get it to work for me, so I have a support request in for that.)
The Bottom Line
I found Opal to be intuitive and simple to use, and I think it would be well suited to small teams (<100) brainstorming. The social dimension is well thought out, including features like following/followers and rich profiles, but no general status updates. The brainstorming features are straightforward, and the killer feature for me is the ability to build on other ideas which can create a very rich concept space in a large group, I bet.
I have a few minor quibbles — I’d like to be able to view all the elements of a brainstorm as an outline, for example, and I would like to be able to export a brainstorm — or parts of it — into a text document, or a Powerpoint deck. But on the whole, I think it will become a part of my tool kit for use cases like the hypothetical conference.

Tempo is a very smart calendar appliance

It’s clear that calendar software suffers from a skeuomorphic adherence to the paper agendas that people used for centuries before the computer was invented. 30 little boxes with text, times and dates. Minimal metadata, and absolutely no smarts about what a calendar entry means.

The perfect proof of that state of affairs is the meeting. When I am about to attend a meeting — either face-to-face or online — there is a predictable series of activities. I pull up emails related to the meeting, and review documents attached. I often need to send a message out to the meeting attendees saying that I will be a few minutes late.

Until recently it seemed that calendar app developers simply disregarded these use cases. Recently, however, the designers behind Apple’s Siri at SRI, finally attacked the problem head on, and the result is Tempo, a new iPhone app.

At first glance — after associating my email and calendar accounts — the app looks like other calendars. Here you see the Agenda and Month views.

2013-03-05 15.16.25

2013-03-05 15.19.16

 

However, when you drill down into a specific event, like the meeting I am having tomorrow (on matters related to the Beacon Bike Loop project here in Beacon NY), you can see the capabilities of the tool. Along with the event’s time, place (which we haven’t settled yet), the contacts, and any recent emails from the contacts, Tempo allows me a simple way to send a message to all the attendees or to signal them that I will be late.

2013-03-05 15.13.25

Here you see the screen after clicking on ‘Message’, arranged so I can email all the contacts, or just one.

2013-03-05 12.41.18

Tempo is still processing my email, but when that is finished it will also fetch attachments in emails that might be related, as well, at least in principle. And it acts as a robotic assistant, working silently in the background, so that I don’t have to manually dig up the contacts, search for emails, etc. Tools like Meetin.gs work the opposite way, putting the burden of being organized on the user. Me, I want ‘bots to organize my mess for me, instead.

Tempo looks like a really smart tool, especially on a mobile device, but an appliance that I see myself using prior to almost any meeting. I wish there was a web version so I could use it on my Mac.

This is another great example of a small and simple social tool, one designed to attack a narrow set of related use cases without trying to boil the entire ocean of all event-related activities.

Crowdbase is a private social knowledge network

I have been testing out Crowdbase, a small and simple private social network centered around notes, links, and questions. It’s value proposition is limited discourse, and does not include events, tasks or documents, elements that seem primary in most work media and task management solutions.

Crowdbase seems to be driven by some slightly contrarian sentiments:

from website

We started using the internet to connect by email. Then came Facebook and other social networks to help us share our personal moments in real time. Now, enterprise social networks are trying to bring the social revolution into businesses—but in reality they deliver a lot of noise that doesn’t assist long-term productivity.

At Crowdbase, we believe enterprise social networks and knowledge management should be reinvented to make businesses better. And that’s why we’re building a social knowledge platform, our own blend of algorithms and technologies, to help people structure knowledge to get better answers and discover new things.

I like the social knowledge notion.

In Use

Operationally, Crowdbase works something like a private Pinterest or Pinboard. After creating a network, which requires a corporate email domain, like @stoweboyd.com, users can be invited with whatever email address.

The best model of use is to add a bookmarklet to your browser, so that webpages can be saved and shared when you are browsing them.

When adding new items to your Crowdbase, they are organized by primary categories. Secondary categories are also supported, so Crowdbase’s taxonomy is something like tags, although with the addition of a primary category.

When links are added, the entire page is loaded and textually analyzed by Crowdbase, and the tool makes recommendations on possible categories based on a deep general taxonomy of terms. Here, below, you see an item analyzed, and Crowdbase recommended ‘Talent Management’ and ‘Collaborative Software’.

crowdbase topics 0

 

The landing page is the user’s activity stream. The primary user interface is organized in a three panel manner, with navigational elements along the left sidebar, and activity feed in the right sidebar, and various presentations of posted item in the center. Here you see that a question has been made a ‘featured item’ by one of the administrators of this Crowdbase account.

Selecting the Topics navigation brings up a UI like this, with ways to organize based on latest activity, most popular, etc. Topics can specific items can be followed, so that additional items and comments will show in the user’s homepage activity stream.


Each topic has its own page, with an option image (here I opted to not use one). And in the case of the automatically selected topics, or at least some of them, there is a Crowdbase provided definition:

Below this header you would see all the items tagged ‘Talent Management’.

Questions imply answers, and that is the goal of Crowdbase questions, too.

Basically, Crowdbase questions have crowdsourced answers, with users voting for the answers they like best.

And Notes are a way to write arbitrarily long text — like an idea to share with the group — and gather people’s thoughts in the comment thread. Note that these — and the other items — have a history that can be viewed, so that changes made are accessible.

Who and How

I think Crowdbase could fill a gap in the coordination of work for people who are using lightweight work management tools like Asana, Trello, and Do. These often have no obvious way to share information other than tasks (except as attachments), and so a tool like Crowdbase might be a natural additional capability.

For example, I can upload an item in Crowdbase, and then create a task in Asana to explicitly direct someone to review it. This is made simple by the use of the Asana bookmarklet, which captures the URL of the page that’s open.  In my case I am tasking myself, but the general principle holds:

Naysayers might argue that an organization is better off with a single integrated tool, in which tasks and these shared notes, questions, and links would be managed in the same way. Perhaps that has some validity, but I favor using best of breed solutions for various sorts of sharing. And many companies have decided to use team task managers — like Asana — because they are extremely focused on getting things done, and less on a stream of social chatter. Nonetheless, there is still a need to share ideas and links, and so this hybrid might be the answer.

Bottom Line

Crowdbase is a small and simple private social network, organized around the sharing of links, notes, and questions. I have been using it for several weeks. Although there are a few tiny glitches in the editor, I have found the automatic topic analysis helpful, and that and the tool’s other capabilities have fit very well into my work flow.

Tell Your Boss Anything

I recently learned about an interesting small and simple product called Tell Your Boss Anything: a service organized around anonymous feedback for managers. So I signed up and found a tightly designed social tool, implementing a very important use case in a direct and intuitive way.
One of the interesting features is that employees can share how they feel with their boss, and provide specific feedback. Here’s the sign up, which allows the staffer (here, me under my gmail account) to share that he’s frustrated about the lack of change in the organization with his boss (me, using a different email address).
tell your boss 1
The editor window:
tell your boss 1-5
And here is the manager’s view of this feedback, after the issue has been resolved.
tell your boss anything 2
 
The tool also implements an interesting wrinkle on this use case: if the employee feels like their feedback is not  being heard, the employee can invite other employees to chime in and support the initial feedback.
A Talk With Tom Willams of Happiily
I spoke with Tom Williams of Happiily, the company behind Tell Your Boss Anything, and he explained that it grew out of a very structured survey they conducted. The company found that engagement went way up when employee feedback was broken out of structured comprehensive surveys, and they could simply focus on the hot issues that were really important. They also feel that a screened, anonymous model of feedback takes out a lot of the concerns that employees and management have.
Although some say that if the company is operating with the ‘right culture’ that anonymity would be unnecessary, I don’t agree. People would at the least pull punches, and at the worst would totally self-sensor or risk getting fired, passed over, or considered a whiner. And corporate sanctioned channels — like a Yammer or Podio instance — aren’t really organized for this sort of thing, although I can see that it could be built in. (Note that David Sacks, the founder/CEO of Yammer is an investor.)
After the launch of Tell Your Boss Anything they had a big media uptake, and surge of use, which also drives interest in the company’s more sophisticated end-to-end employee sentiment distillation and analysis offering.
I look forward to see where Williams and Happiily take the Tell Your Boss Anything product. I’m sure he has cool ideas brewing.

Small and simple apps, and trust

The trend will start primarily in the fast-and-loose end of business, meaning small businesses, freelancers, and autonomous creatives in larger companies.