Revolution in the air?

I was heads down working last week, catching up with the world in the way that always follows international travel (I was in Lisbon the week before: see The Future Of Work In A Social World – Part 1). So I was somewhat distracted, and merely logged a long list of announcements from product companies in my sweet spot.

It looks like the time of year when software releases and re-releases are exploding, just like the flowers on the cherry trees.

Here’s a sampling, and my skinny on these announcements, all of which will be explored in the next week or so.

Tomfoolery.com announced their first product, the mobile-first Anchor. I got a quick peek a few weeks ago, when CEO Kakul Srivastava was in New York for the All Things D conference. It’s a social collaboration tool with some interesting properties. I am more intrigued in the long-term direction of the company, and the concept of a suite of tools focused on different things but sharing core information, like identity and relationships.

Meetin.gs announced a completely reworked user experience for their social scheduling and meeting tool. A new timeline approach, new mobile UX, and the idea of ‘meeting pages’ is the concrete result of listening closely to early users, and rethinking the tool’s value top to bottom. [disclosure: I was an advisor to the company in 2012; I have no ongoing relationship or financial interest.]

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Meetin.gs

 

Convo announced a new iOS version of the team collaboration tool, which largely sounds like a speeding up of the tool, and not a major revision. I am interested in taking another look at the app in light of my search for the perfect research tool (see Thinking about ‘Son Of’ now that Betaworks has bought Instapaper), because Convo is being strongly shaped by its use in media companies.

Tempo announced that the company has opened the beta to the smart calendar app (see Tempo is a very smart calendar appliance), after a well-publicized torrent of sign-ups led the company to institute a sign-up queue. And they announced a new release, as well. The new release includes more smarts about conference call numbers and the protocols that different services use, as part of the really helpful conference call automation they provide. Note, that has been the only glitch I have had in the user experience with Tempo: I had at least two calls where the conference call set-up failed.

Tyba went live with a new approach to connecting new entrants to the job market with companies seeking same. I will take a look in an upcoming piece on the online social jobs marketplace.

Wunderlist announced Wunderlist Pro, a team-based version of their successful soloist task management application, for Mac, iPad, iPhone, and the web. I will be reviewing this week.

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Wunderlist Pro

 

Looks like revolution’s in the air.

Why isn’t the future of work top of mind?

From one perspective. last week’s ‘big story’ was the continuing fall-out and discourse about Marissa Mayer’s ‘no remote work’ diktat. I added a bit of fuel to the fire with Cultural change is really complex contagionWhy are disengaged employees disengaged?, and Why work doesn’t happen at work. But since I analyzed that issue at some length last week, I’ve decided to talk about something different.
Last week, SxSW ramped up, with the event’s curious admixture of tech Mardi Gras and the search for the next-shiny-app. I decided, several months ago, to sit out SxSW, for a variety of reasons.
SxSW obviously jumped the shark a few years ago. In Jan 2011, I wrote about SxSW:

Stowe Boyd, Why I Am Not Going To SxSW
I have attended SxSW Interactive a few times, and I’ve found it to be a high-tech Woodstock, without the mud or the music. Just lots of people milling around, and queued up for the parties, the after parties, and the after-after parties.
The selection approach for the talks is all about popularity, and there is no obvious thematic control, and no MC, so the sessions are very uneven. Some can be great, but the majority are a rewarming of shopworn topics. The most popular talks are too crowded to admit all those that want in, so you’re lucky if you get into one in five of those.

By a curious turn of events, I had clients who wanted me to meet with them during SxSW that year, so I wound up in Austin during the event, but without a pass. And I found that sort of interesting, since I could observe the goings-on without the same expectation of attending a conference, but more like an errant anthropologist. Again, in an odd twist of events, I was asked to be on the program committee — which meant a free pass in ’12 — and I accepted thinking that I might have some impact on the program. And, I also had a panel accepted for ’12 (with Dave Gray, Megan Murray, and Gordon Ross), so I had reasons to attend.
But there were only a small number of sessions that appealed to me last year, and some I couldn’t get into because Interactive has become just way too packed. I looked carefully at the program, and there just wasn’t enough that I wanted to see to make it worth the money, time and travel. So, although I am still on the program committee, and I have a free pass, I opted to not go.
But I want to use that as a pivot point to ask a related question: why isn’t the future of work more of a burning issue? Why aren’t there more sessions at SxSW on social business, why aren’t more social business vendors out there promoting their vision of the future?
Perhaps the acquisition of Yammer, Podio, and Socialcast has made social business software seem like ‘business as usual’ and not as likely a breakthrough in productivity as apps like Tempo or Mailbox.
I think there is a huge dislocation going on. Issues like Yahoo’s ‘no remote work’ ban are top of mind, as are the societal stressors like our increasing work/life imbalance, the freelance economy, the downsides of temp work a la Amazon distribution workers, and a long list of others.
We seem to be lacking a positive vision of the future of work, one that would make it more interesting. In business terms, some set of ideas that would put the future of work in the black, and pull it out of the red.
I’ve written a bit about open work (see Open work is the next high water mark for social business), but absent some actual software products being developed to implement that (where are you, LinkedIn?) it’s just a handwave by a futurist.
What I think is needed is a better understanding of what is going on, in the office buildings and home offices across the country and across the world, to help people understand that we aren’t just being blown before the winds of a precarious economy, we are actively headed somewhere, even if we haven’t been able to say exactly where that is.
So I think that the fact that this critical and timely discussion isn’t occupying top of mind in the business world reflects a failure of people like me to do our jobs, which is to try to make sense of the large trends shaping the world of work, and to cast those in terms that help others to take affective action. And specifically, to make clear where we are headed, and why. I promise to rededicate myself to that task.

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.

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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.

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

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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.

Structure LaunchPad: We’re turning it up to 11!

The concept of cloud computing has permeated the startup worlds and is steadily encroaching on the enterprise, and the 11 startups we selected as the finalists for Structure LaunchPad competition this year show how far the cloud’s reach has come.