‘Work Processing’ and the decline of the (Wordish) Document

I’ve been exploring a growing list of web-based tools for the creation and management of what most would call ‘documents’ — assemblages of text, images, lists, embedded video, audio and other media — but which, are in fact, something quite different than the precursors, like Microsoft Word and Apple Pages documents.
The big shift underlying these new tools is that they are not oriented around printing onto paper, or digital analogues of paper, like PDF. Instead, they take as a given that the creation, management, and sharing of these assemblages of information will take place nearly all the time online, and will be social at the core: coediting, commenting, and sharing are not afterthoughts grafted onto a ‘work processing’ architecture. As a result, I am referring to these tools — like the pioneering Google Docs, and newer entrants Dropbox Paper, Quip, Draft, and Notionas ‘work processing’ tools. This gets across the idea that we aren’t just pushing words onto paper through agency of word processing apps, we’re capturing and sharing information that’s critical to our increasingly digital businesses, to be accessed and leveraged in digital-first use cases.
In a recent piece on Medium, Documents are the new Email, I made the case that old style ‘documents’ are declining as a percentage of overall work communications, with larger percentages shifting to chat, texting, and work media (enterprise social networks). And, like email, documents are increasingly disliked as a means to communicate. And I suggested that, over time, these older word processing documents — and the use cases that have built up around them — will decline.
At the same time, I believe there is a great deal of promise in ‘work processing‘ tools, which are based around web publishing, web notions of sharing and co-creation, and the allure of content-centric work management.
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Chat-centric work management, as typified by Slack-style work chat, is getting a tremendous surge in attention recently, and is the now dominant form of message-centric work technology, edging out follow-centric work media solutions (like Yammer, Jive, and IBM Connections).
Workforce communications — relying on a more top-down messaging approach for the mobile workforce — is enjoying a great surge in adoption, but is principally oriented toward the ‘hardwork’ done by workers in retail, manufacturing, transport, security, and construction, and away from the ‘softwork’ done by office workers. This class of tool is all about mobile messaging. (Note: we are planning a market narrative about this hot area.)
Today’s Special
Today, I saw that David Byttow’s Bold — a new work processing app — has entered a private beta, with features that line it up in direct competition with Google Docs and the others mentioned above. Bold raised a round of $1 million from Index Ventures in January 2016.
The competition is hotting up.
Work Processing Will Be The New Normal
What I anticipate is the convergence on a work processing paradigm, with at least these features:

  • Work processing ‘docs’ will exist as online assemblages, and not as ‘files’. As a result they will be principally shared through links, access rights, or web publishing, and not as attachments, files, or PDFs, except when exported by necessity.
  • Work processing apps will incorporate some metaphors from word processing like styling text, manipulating various sorts of lists, sections, headings, and so on.
  • Work processing will continue the notions of sharing and co-editing from early pioneers (Google Docs in particular), like edit-oriented comments, sharing through access-control links, and so on.
  • Work processing will lift ideas from work chat tools, such as bots, commands, and @mentions.
  • Work processing will adopt some principles from task management, namely tasks and related metadata, which can be embedded within work processing content, added in comments or other annotations, or appended to ‘docs’ or doc elements by participants through work chat-style bot or chat communications.

I am pressed for time today, and can’t expand on these ideas with examples, but I plan to do so quite soon in a companion post to this, called Work Processing: Coming soon to a ‘Doc’ near you.

Back to the (Office of the) Future

Over the years, there have been numerous articles musing on what the office of the future would look like, but how have those predictions matched up to reality today? Let’s look at a BusinessWeek article from 1975 and an Apple video made in 1987.

Word 2011: The Word I’ve Been Waiting For

Word 2008 quickly fell out of favor with me. It consistently crashed on exit. It was horribly slow, and struggled to keep up with itself. If Word 2011 just felt faster and didn’t crash, I’d consider it money well spent. But Microsoft went beyond that.

In Depth Look: Pages on the iPad

Apple’s famous word processing application Pages has seen its first update of 2010, delivered as a touch-enabled little brother for the new iPad. But how does this version stack up to its OS X counterpart? After testing the app for almost a week, here are my thoughts.

Alternative Word Processors for the Mac

Recently, I spent some time reinstalling OS X and the applications on one of my Macs (s aapl). Before reinstalling Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac (which really isn’t up to the standard of its Windows counterpart), I thought I’d consider the alternative Mac word processors available.

The word processors I’m going to look at in this post all have a short learning curve because they stick to Mac interface standards, so you’ll be able to be productive quickly, which is always a good thing.

Take a good look at the documents you produce and the features you need; one of these word processors might be a ready alternative for you, especially if you are working on an older Mac and don’t want to invest in a costly Microsoft Office license. Read More about Alternative Word Processors for the Mac

Zoho Writer 2.0: A User Interface That’s More User Friendly

writerlogoThere is very little reason to depend on a hard drive-based application for your word processing needs these days. Google Docs provides everything most users will ever need; you already have it if you have a Gmail account, and it works offline, thanks to Google Gears. Another solution, Zoho Writer, which also works offline thanks to Gears, just got a major interface overhaul in its 2.0 incarnation, and now is more poised than ever to provide a complete alternative to Office and other similar programs.

The problem with Zoho, until now, has been one of constant improvement. That may not seem like a problem at all, but when that improvement involves adding more and more features, but keeping the interface the same, it can get a little unruly. The new redesign tries to make sure Zoho doesn’t overwhelm you visually, which in turn makes it easier to work with.


The old Zoho Writer menu

While some liked the old UI, I found it too cluttered, because I normally like to edit in full screen, and like as little chrome as possible in my browsers. The changes to the top menu give you a bit more room, but more importantly, they group and hide a lot of commands so you aren’t left feeling crowded. The new “MenuTab” feature groups similar commands under general headings. You can access these commands either by clicking the tab, which changes the button set available on your toolbar (much like Microsoft’s “Ribbon” UI for Office) or by clicking the little arrow next to them, which opens a drop-down menu without changing your toolbar.

The new Zoho Writer 2.0 "MenuTab" interface

The new Zoho Writer 2.0 "MenuTab" interface

It makes sense, and it suits multiple tastes. You’ll be comfortable if you’re used to working with Office, or if you’re used to working with drop-down menus like you’ll find in a lot of web apps. Zoho plans to use MenuTab in all of its other applications in the future, too, so even if you don’t like it, plan on getting used to it!

I won’t go into detail about Zoho Writer, since we’ve covered it before. It’s not new, but I still love Zoho’s tabbed management of open documents. I much prefer it to Google’s opening of new browser tabs for each document, although that makes much more sense when you take into account Google Chrome’s handling of each tab as a separate process. And I still miss Google’s full-screen edit mode too much to make a permanent switch.

Still, if you’re a Zoho user, or if you tried it out before but didn’t like it because of the interface, Zoho Writer 2.0 gives you ample reason to take it out for a second spin.

Do you use Zoho Writer? What do you think of the new UI?

DoingText: Easy Collaboration

DoingText - let's talk about textYou can probably already think of a bunch of different ways to collaborate with your web-working co-workers on editing a piece of text: emailing drafts, wikis, instant messages, online word processors like Google Documents or Zoho Writer. DoingText is a new entrant in this crowded field, hoping to gain some interest by making the process as low-friction as possible.
The idea behind DoingText is simple: you launch a new discussion by pasting a chunk of text to their site. From there, you get a dedicated editing window that lets you make changes. The editing window understands the Textile markup language, so adding things like bold and italic and hyperlinks is simple.
Read More about DoingText: Easy Collaboration

Sun Posts StarOffice 9 Beta For OS X

Sun Microsystems posted a beta version of StarOffice 9 today (based on OpenOffice). The 183MB download gives you a disk image that contains an application you just copy into your Applications folder (no icky/cumbersome installer). Upon first launch, it prompts you to read the license agreement and asks for some basic user information. Unfortunately, it also stalled on me and required a Force Quit and relaunch before I could start testing it out.

All-in-all, there are some pretty neat enhancements, including:

  • support for Microsoft Office 2007 OOXML files
  • a much improved presenter interface (for slideshows)
  • the ability to import and edit PDF files (via an extension)
  • PDF/A export support along with PDF encryption options
  • much better integration with MySQL databases
  • a calendar extension (requires Thunderbird), finally providing StarOffice with the beginnings of an Outlook competitor
  • a blogging & wiki publishing components (additional extensions)
  • charting and “Solver” additions to Calc
  • a new extension framework (allowing you to roll your own)

I had time to try the Microsoft document support and enhanced PDF import & export and was greatly impressed. You edit PDF files in Draw (kinda makes sense) and can do minor manipulations very easily (though the formatting may not always carry over 100% in the beta). I wanted to try the weblog publisher, but it kept hanging StarOffice each time I tried loading the extension (I can, as a result, report that document recovery works perfectly!).

Since it’s beta, Sun would appreciate feedback you can post your experiences/problems to:

  • General Discussions for feedback about all findings around StarOffice 9 Beta
  • Installation for feedback about StarOffice 9 Beta Installation issues, and
  • Extensions for feedback about StarOffice 9 Beta Extensions

StarOffice 8 is currently listing for $69.95USD, so we can probably expect version 9 to be around that price (which is substantially cheaper than Microsoft Office).

If any TAB readers are heavy Calc users or manage to try out the new Impress or blogging/wiki/Outlook features, drop a note in the comments! TAB should have a full review of the finished product once it’s released.

Scrivener – A Writer’s Paradise

I first heard about Scrivener on MacBreak Weekly a couple days ago, and although it has been around for a while, this was the first time that I heard about it. It was only mentioned as “I only use Scrivener now” when they were talking about iWork and Word 2008. I thought I would give it a try.

Scrivener is billed as the only word processor that will help you do everything from the very first idea you have to the final draft. I find it easier to think of it as word processing on steroids. But it isn’t really a word processor, and Keith, the developer is the first to point out often that you will need a different word processor if you want to have a final printable draft of your work. You can do so much more (and so much easier) with Scrivener than Pages or Word. You can be pretty confident that the product is good when the developer links to alternate programs on his website. That shows that the intent is to provide a good user experience, and not only to sell a product. A little of that goes a long way.


Let’s get the negatives out of the way so we can end on a more positive note.

There are no page layout views. Granted, there aren’t supposed to be any, but, it is still a drawback when you don’t have that and need to export it to Word to get it to layout correctly.

The first thing you will notice is that it is very different from most text editors because there is a lot more to do, which means a larger learning curve, though there is a great detailed (and long) tutorial, that will help get you on your feet.

When you are in full-screen mode, you can’t switch between documents. You must exit full-screen mode, choose another document, then open full-screen mode again.
Read More about Scrivener – A Writer’s Paradise