Are we losing something with all of these siloed commenting tools?
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.
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.
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:
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:
[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.