Embedded Experiences Are Coming to the Browser

One of the most interesting and valuable developments in enterprise social software (ESS) over the last few years has been the introduction of embedded experiences. Simply put, these are event-driven notifications, usually from other enterprise applications and systems, that surface within the activity stream of an ESS application. Embedded experiences go beyond merely notifying of something important; they also allow one or more actions to be taken to move a business process to the next step.
chatter notification vacation approval
 
Embedded experiences are great, but they have been written in proprietary code tied to a specific ESS vendor’s offering. It has not been possible to reuse actionable notifications across vendors’ solutions.
Google has announced a new feature in the latest beta version of its Chrome browser that will provide an open standard alternative for the delivery of extended experiences. Chrome 48 Beta enables developers to quickly create notifications with buttons that let users complete tasks. Those notification can be pushed from browser-based applications and webpages, as well as from Chrome OS applications and extensions to the Chrome browser.
Google and Mozilla employees have contributed to the development of the fledgling Notifications API standard under the auspices of the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG) community. This specification is what has been implemented in Google’s Chrome 48 Beta.
A Notification Generator built to define HTML-based embedded experiences has been created by Peter Beverloo. The generator shows how easy it is to define an embedded experience that can appear in any HTML5-compliant web browser.

Notification GeneratorSource: http://tests.peter.sh/notification-generator/#actions=1;;requireInteraction=true

As previously noted, embedded experiences have been proprietary to individual vendor’s applications and platforms. Google’s beta implementation of the WHATWG’s Notifications API specification is a first important step toward embedded experiences that will work across operating systems and applications. When the feature is properly vetted and becomes part of the stable release of Chrome (and, we assume, Mozilla’s Firefox browser), open, actionable notifications will be reality.
This is important because it will make the development and use of embedded experiences far more practical and widespread. Enterprise software vendors who choose to implement the WHATWG’s Notifications API specification will empower their customers to more easily create interoperability with other vendors’ browser-based tools. Actionable data embedded in notifications will be able to be passed between systems, business process execution will be accelerated, and personal productivity will be increased.
This news further intensifies the browser-based versus operating system-dependent application debate, especially with regards to mobile computing. The current preference for native applications on mobile devices will be challenge to the uptake of the Notifications API specification, given its dependence on the Web browser. Development of more of these types of Web standards is precisely what is needed to swing the pendulum back toward browser-based applications.

Slack Posts New Functionality

Slack is widely acknowledged as the enterprise real-time messaging (work chat) tool with the most traction, having passed the million daily user mark in June. It seems that the company is not content to stay boxed into the work chat category, however. Yesterday, Slack announced and released Posts 2.0, a feature that enables the rich authoring of blog posts and publishing them to targeted collections of people.
Since its launch, Slack has had this feature, called Posts, that lets people write content that far exceeds the length of a normal chat message. However, it was so clunky that few people used it, if they were aware of it at all. To create a Post, one was sent out of the Slack application to a web browser, where text was written using a very simple editor and then saved back to Slack as an entry in the conversation stream of a specific channel or group.
The new Posts 2.0 includes an inline text editor, which improves the experience in two ways. First, it keeps users inside the Slack app. Second, it lets them create rich text with formatting styles like headlines, bulleted lists and checkboxes. Beyond that, the new editor also acts on embedded URLs by automatically displaying graphics, showing previews of websites and expanding tweets.
Once written, Posts can still be shared with specific individuals, channels and groups, whose members can comment directly on the entry (as opposed to creating an chronologically-ordered entry in the Slack conversation stream). This is one of two places in Slack where properly threaded discussions are possible; Files is the other.
There is another important new feature in Posts 2.0 – the ability to save and access Posts in the Files section of the Slack application. So rather than having to scroll through or search the Slack conversation stream to view a specific Post again, it can be easily found in the Files repository. Additionally, if an author stars a Post in the editor or a reader does so in the conversation stream, it will show up in Slack’s Starred Items list. 

Cool, But Do Businesses Need This? 

With Posts 2.0, Slack has complemented existing features with new ones that, in combination, begin to move the application beyond being primarily a work chat tool. Slack has now effectively become a lightweight Web Content Management System that enables blogging (to a targeted audience), file storage and sharing and threaded discussion (around Posts and documents stored in Files only). It’s a lightweight people directory with profiles too. Oh, and it’s still a communication and collaboration tool.
This expansion of mission is fine, but it immediately raises the question that I previously asked and continue to pose about Slack. Why? Do work teams really need an alternative to existing corporate communication and information management applications that already satisfy the same use cases that Slack is addressing? How is Slack better than the status update, IM, blogging, file sharing, and discussion tools for communities (groups) that are bundled in the enterprise social software applications and platforms that organizations have already licensed and deployed?
In addition to the functional redundancy, one also wonders if Slack will ultimately lose its audience by becoming the opposite of what it was originally. The application’s strong initial appeal was the simplicity of its user experience. By adding more communication and collaboration features, Slack risks becoming a complex mess of functionality that few will care to use, especially on mobile devices.
On the other hand, Slack may intentionally de-emphasize its application in the future, positioning and going to market as a platform on which developers can create their own apps. We’ll see. Many already refer to Slack as a messaging-centric platform. Time will tell if that is indeed their market strategy for the long-haul, but, for now, Slack is beginning to look like yet another bloated application.

Flywheel has finally figured out its secret weapon against Uber

A few weeks before New Year’s, I received a pitch from Flywheel that I’ve been waiting for since I started using the service in 2013. It said, “Flywheel Battles Uber with #FairFare.” The email inside proclaimed “Flywheel is the no-surge pricing alternative to get a ride around town.”

flywheel email to me

It looks as if Flywheel, the booking app for taxis, has finally figured out its secret weapon against the likes of Uber and Lyft: Reliable pricing. It’s not a new feature for the company. From its inception in 2009 Flywheel has never had surge pricing in the cities it operates in — now SF, LA, Seattle, Sacramento, and San Diego. But for the longest time, the company didn’t seem to understand that this was the best way to lure people back to the taxi system. Instead, it touted Flywheel’s legality, its use of regulated taxis, the number of car companies on its app. None of those were big enough draws.

At the end of the day, people vote with their wallets, and if there’s anything that will get people to move to Flywheel, it’s cost.

Is price part of reliability?

Town car ride-hailing Uber

Uber and Lyft argue that surge pricing makes their services more reliable because it gets more drivers on the road during a time they might not otherwise drive — like New Years or a hostage crisis. There’s truth to that.

But these companies miss the fact that for many non-wealthy customers, stable price is one of the factors in determining reliability. Without the assurance of a fixed fee, people will turn to other services for backup.

Although people have been complaining about surge pricing for years, this New Years showed the first sign that they are willing to stop using Uber and Lyft as a result. The SF Examiner found that on New Year’s Eve in San Francisco there was little to no surge pricing, because of either low demand or too much supply.  The lack of surge upset drivers who gave up their New Year’s to make money.

Tweets from passengers suggest that people planned ahead, deciding to walk, take public transit or flag taxis to avoid the ridesharing surge. Ironically, that resulted in little to no Uber or Lyft surge pricing because there wasn’t enough demand to drive it there. “It was an incredible sight to see all the cabs full and the rideshare cars empty,” one driver told The Examiner. “I was laughing and crying at the same time.”

Another potential reason there was no surge pricing on New Year’s Eve in San Francisco is because so many drivers took to the road in the hopes of making money. With such a flood of supply, there wasn’t enough demand to cause surge pricing.

It’s worth noting the story isn’t bulletproof — it’s based on anecdotal evidence. When I asked, neither Uber nor Lyft would confirm specific SF surge rates in 2014 compared to previous years.

In other parts of the country, where the Uber service is still relatively new, surge pricing was common, according to this CNN data.

Passengers wise up and avoid the surge

The difference between SF and other cities suggests that over time, passengers get smarter about using ridesharing services. Although they may put up with surge pricing initially, they eventually expect and avoid it. As a result, Uber and Lyft could lose customers, and the resulting profit, on some of the biggest travel nights of the year.

It’s clearly not hurting Uber at the moment — the company saw 2 million rides on New Years Eve alone. But the service is new in a lot of places, so passengers are just starting to feel the pain of unpredictable surge pricing. By New Years Eve next year, will Uber users in other places get smart about avoiding the surge, the same way San Francisco residents did?

I suspect surge-avoidance will slowly trickle down to day-to-day travel. I live near Union Square in San Francisco, so I’ve already learned I can’t rely on Uber and Lyft from a pricing perspective, because they’re nearly always operating with surge pricing here. Without that reliability, I prepare alternative options for travel and develop new habits, lessening my ridesharing addiction. That’s where a competitor like Flywheel or Sidecar could come in and do really well.

There’s been plenty written about how surge pricing is a broken system, but there hasn’t been much ado about the fact that it’s also Uber and Lyft’s biggest weakness. It’s the one area where other companies can easily beat them.

Anachronistic Twitter Client Released for Classic Macs

If you’re still running an old Mac PowerBook 550c or something similar, it must be really annoying to not be able to use Twitter via a native client. That’s probably your No. 1 concern, in fact, on your OS 8.1-running machine. You could always use the web interface, but that’s not really a fair solution, is it?

Now, thanks to Grackle68k, Mac users who are still running Macintosh System 6, 7, 8 and 9 can have a dedicated Twitter client of their very own. Personally, I think the release of this app was just timed to steal the spotlight away from Seesmic for Windows. Obviously this is much bigger news! Read More about Anachronistic Twitter Client Released for Classic Macs

Unambiguous To-dos: A Tip for Better Progress

post-it-actionDo you ever wonder what is keeping you from making progress toward your goals? Perhaps you’ve set up a schedule for yourself, outlining the things you need to do each day so that you focus on the most important tasks related to your business, but somehow, you still seem to be falling short. Maybe the solution is not in the lack of planning and foresight on your part, but rather the lack of clarity around the things that need to be done. Read More about Unambiguous To-dos: A Tip for Better Progress

MainMenu — Keep Your Mac in Shape

mainmenu

Earlier this month, Dare to be Creative announced MainMenu 2.0, an update to its system maintenance utility for OS X. This lightweight application allows you to clean up your Mac, improve system performance and free up hard disk space — all directly from the system menu.

The new release offers a range of improved functionality, an informative system menu icon, and integration with the Growl notification service. This review will offer an overview of MainMenu’s key features, and explain how the software can assist with running a fast, healthy Mac. Read More about MainMenu — Keep Your Mac in Shape