Work chat Fleep’s slash commands, tasks, and email integration

2016-01-19: Updated with some corrections. Strikeouts indicated former erroneous material now amended or deleted, and italics show new explanations.


I’ve been closely watching the development of work chat vendor Fleep, and since I reviewed the product in August (see Work chat tool Fleep has native task management: Is that a key feature, or just nice to have?) the company has addressed so many areas I won’t try to cover them all, I’ll let them do that for you.
I am just going to focus on the slash commands, tasks, and email integration.
Slash commands — Fleep’s chat (or ‘conversations’ as they call them), support a number of commands that are preceded by a slash (‘/’):

/pin <message> — create a new pinned message
/task <message> — create a new task message
/taskto @someone — create and assign a new task
/bug <message> — create a new bug report task with ((bug))
/add <email> — add new members to the conversation
/kick <email> — remove members from the conversation
/leave — leave conversation

When these are used in the context of a chat, when a chat message with a leading command is posted, the action is taken. In the screenshot below, I have just invited Doppelganger Jones to the AdjectiveNoun conversation, assigned him a task ‘please write up a plan’, and I have formed a new chat message at the bottom to create a second task also assigned to him.
Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 2.10.54 PM
Here’s the task pane opened after those tasks were created.
Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 2.11.26 PM
One of the weaknesses of Fleep’s task model is that the tasks have very little metadata. I can understand why they might not need comments or notes — it’s a chat app, after all — but due dates are fairly essential.
Tasks are completed by checking the task box. I found it odd that pinning a task — which moves a message to the top of the chat window and stops it from scrolling away — leads to the task losing its ‘taskness’: it becomes just another message. Odd.
Documents can be added to the conversation — including Google and Dropbox docs — but these aren’t attached to messages or tasks: they’re just dropped into the chat. And one or more documents/files can be added to messages or tasks.
Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 2.13.16 PM
Once added, they also show up in the ‘Files’ pane, the one with the paperclip icon.
Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 2.14.23 PM
Personally, I might have designed them to do both. That limitation seems particularly irksome with tasks.
It’s great that Fleep tasks (and messages) can have attachments, since passing along a description of the work to be done, or a document to be approved are commonplace activities.
Also note in this case I was trying to attach a Google doc, but somehow Fleep instead creates and attaches a PDF of the doc. So my colleagues on Fleep can’t use this as a way to open and coedit the Google doc, but just to look at an immediately out-of-date pdf of the doc. This is dumb. If I were actually using Fleep in production I would copy and paste URLs to docs, instead. And Fleep provides a text markup for that, in this form:

link<<text>>adds an inline link with the text in the angled brackets

And that works really well, in fact:
Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 10.01.45 AM Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 10.02.01 AM
Clicking on the preview or the URL link opens the Google doc, and since I copied a share URL that allows for editing, my colleagues would be able to view, comment, and or edit the Google doc, in place.
Returning to tasks, the task pane can include ‘sections’ that can be used to arrange tasks into subsets.
Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 2.49.17 PM
I like the capability to layout the sections in this way, and when coupled with the ability to ‘clone’ conversations, teams could create and reuse project templates to help regularize the work in project conversations. Too bad that the ‘clone’ function for projects only copies the set of contributors, and doesn’t include — for example — the tasks defined in the conversation. If it did, teams could create and reuse project templates to help regularize the work in project conversations. Alas, not today.
Fleep now supports ‘@mentions’, so that I can alert others to messages, like ‘Can someone take a look at the timeline in this doc to check it’s up to date? https://docs.google.com/document/d/1bwF55zWtnJOtUsDheIoRgwmC7Geq7ZVcT9Ho-UYnd3w/edit?usp=sharing<<Report>> @doppelganger.jones’.
Note that the user identity in Fleep for Fleep users is an email address:
Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 2.57.33 PM
This is by design. Fleep is tightly integrated with email, so that non-Fleep users can be invited to conversations simply by adding their email. If they aren’t a Fleep user, they can participate through email. This leads to all messages — including tasks — being sent to them, and their responses showing up in the conversation. Emailed tasks just look like messages at present, so email only participants can’t check them off, for example.
More importantly to me is that emails directed to Fleep aren’t treated as tasks but as messages, although they can be converted to tasks. And the model is that a new conversation is created with the other person for these emails. There is no way to direct them to an existing conversation. That’s a different slant than I am used to, from tools like Todoist.


I have not  touched on all features of the tool, but probably enough to get a sense for what using it feels like. Fleep is at core, a classic work chat tool, based on contextual conversation (see Contextual conversation: Work chat will dominate collaboration). Unlike leading competitors, however, Fleep has integrated task management.
At the same time, the limits on Fleep’s task model would chafe anyone who believes that richer capabilities are essential — like multiple assignment, subtasks, due dates, start dates, notes, comments, attachments, and so on. However, the fact that tasks and other messages can be brought back into context when looking at a task by selecting ‘show in conversation’ does counter some of the issues with notes, comments, and attachments, so long as they are in fact truly contextualized.
I hacked a link from a task to a day on my Google Calendar to represent a due date, but that just indicates the direction they might take if they start thinking about due dates and calendar integration. Here’s the edit for the task:
Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 9.51.54 AM
And here’s how it renders:Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 9.53.13 AM
This manual approach is just too much work, although I certainly could get the first order benefits simply by putting the due date in the text of a task.
Obviously, I’d rather have a calendar integration so that tasks with due dates would automatically show on my Google Calendar, and so would anyone else, I bet.
If the team at Fleep continue their development at the breakneck pace of 2015, they may in fact be countering some of these issues, and their focus on integration with a wide spectrum of developer tools seems to represent the same arc of adoption that we saw first with Hipchat, and later with Slack. We should anticipate the same disperal pattern, where the developers in a company infect non-developers with the ease of use and depth of the developers’ work chat platform, and they in turn begin to infect other non-developers across the company and the company’s ecosystem.

Citrix to spin out Goto products, will cut ‘investment’ in Podio

Citrix has announced that the Goto family of products is being spun out, as part of a refocusing the company on its core capabilities. As Larry Dignan reported this morning,

Citrix will spin off GoTo as an independent company. Chris Hylen, who is the general manager of Citrix’s mobility apps unit, will be CEO. GoTo’s annual revenue is about $600 million. The company added that the spin off will happen in the second half of 2016. Citrix shareholders will have shares of two companies. The products included in the spin-off include GoToAssist, GoToMeeting, GoToMyPC, GoToTraining, GoToWebinar, Grasshopper and OpenVoice.

The company says it will be cutting as many at 1000 employees and contract workers, and shutting down certain products.
Based on various discussions with Citrix folks earlier in this year I had a hunch that Podio — the work media solution they acquired in 2012 for $53 million — might be one of the products being retired. I contacted Citrix, and this was the response from Paul Dobson a Senior Director, Analyst Relations at Citrix:

I wanted to let you know that we are going to be reducing investment in Podio as a standalone product, and we will leverage the technology in other existing product.  It will not be offered as a standalone product moving forward.

I recommend that those currently using Podio consider getting off as soon as possible, since Citrix isn’t being very clear as to how long Podio will be running. Podio does support export of the data as an Excel file, so importing to other solutions is possible, at least.


Update 19 November 2015
I received a clarification to the information from Citrix yesterday, again from Paul Dobson at Citrix:

Hi Stowe –
I saw your article, and of course I should have asked for the context ahead of giving you the detail below – I wanted to specify that we will continue to support Podio as a standalone offering for our existing, current customers and we will enable them to add users to their environments, but our strategy for new customers will change in 2016, as per the below.
Paul

What’s My Agenda: the Future of Work and Work Technologies, or Work Futures

People tend to think of not knowing as something to be wiped out or overcome, as if ignorance were simply the absence of knowledge. But answers don’t merely resolve questions; they provoke new ones. – Jamie Holmes, The Case for Teaching Ignorance


The central line of inquiry for my work as an analyst and researcher over the next year and beyond will be the future of work and work technologies, or ‘work futures’, for short. Before breaking that down, let me try to clarify what those terms mean. I will do so by asking a few questions, with Jamie Holmes’ observation, above, in mind.
On one hand, the intent of the phrase ‘the future of work’ is obvious, just like any other ‘future of’, such as ‘the future of dentistry’ or ‘the future of the European Union’. But the reality is that the meme of ‘the future of work’ has developed a strong connotation related to a specific set of progressive ideals about work, and an underlying implicit criticism of the state of work today, and the preceding era, as well.
‘The future of work’ is an academically-oriented domain of discourse, with a strong lean into new theories of humanist business management, and with closely related ideas of economics and organizational development.As a simplification, I have been using work futures as a shorthand or synonym for ‘the future of work and work technologies’, and will do so for the rest of this post and going forward in general. [In fact, work futures was the name of the consulting company that I created when the old Gigaom shut down in March 2015.]
The growing interest in work futures has arisen as a central area of discussion about organization, management, and adaptation to new technologies, especially those which are based on the form and function of social networks and social media. This is an expansion and absorption of the discipline called social business, that started in the early ‘00s and had been drained of emotive force by 2010, principally due to the blur caused by vendor marketing that has drifted back into the ‘right information to the right people at the right time’ vein, and lost the thread of a more humane workplace and the aspiration for people to find meaning and purpose in work.
The first wave of social business was principally an adoption of technologies like blogging, wikis, forums, intranets, community software, and various sorts of messaging. This was an early phase, much of which predated social networks like Twitter and Facebook.
The second phase of social business tech was more of an aspect of Web 2.0 era technologies, transitioning to software-as-a-service, and increasingly mobile. However, it was principally a desktop-based era, and newer solutions and practices have emerged which are much more mobile at their core, and less likely to be deployed behind the firewall on company servers.
Enterprise 2.0 was a school of thought that was strongly technology centered, based on the parallelism with the term Web 2.0.  It was a school of thought that took the ‘tech’ side in the perennial debate about ‘which is more important, the technology or the people side of social business?’ Andrew McAfee of MIT is perhaps the leading advocate for the term, but it has been displaced first by ‘social business’ and now by ‘the future of work’ and ‘digital transformation’.
Digital transformation can be thought of as an industrialization of the thinking behind the research and practice of work futures, building around the growing popularity of customer experience as a unifying metaphor for customer-centered business thinking in an increasingly digital world.Just as fast as social business has been eclipsed by work futures, in turn work futures is rapidly being crowded out in entrepreneurial and existential management and tech circles by digital transformation. Digital transformation can be thought of as an industrialization of the thinking behind the research and practice of work futures, building around the growing popularity of customer experience as a unifying metaphor for customer-centered business thinking in an increasingly digital world.
Here’s a definition I used in a recent presentation:

Digital Transformation: A new operating model of business – based on continuous innovation – by the application of digital technologies and the restructuring of operations around customer experience to better engage with customers, the company ecosystem, and the greater marketplace.

Note that the work futures content is buried mostly in the ‘restructuring of operations’ phrase, and the shape and tenor of those changes is in service to the need to get onto a digital footing in relation to customers. The focus on humanization and democratization of work in work futures discourse is shifted to customers at the center of the digital transformation weltanschauung.
I threw out the terms ‘entrepreneurial and existential management’ above, and they warrant some unpacking.

Entrepreneurial management is the branch or thread of management thinking and writing that extols entrepreneurialism above other approaches, venerates start-up culture, and which advocates for the application of practices that have come from that quarter for other, and older, companies. This includes lean and agile practice, data-centered management, and valuing experimentation and learning over tradition and institutional knowledge. There is much to admire in entrepreneurial thought, but there are aspects of this body of thought that carry forward questionable practices from the past, such as the central role of consensus building which can lead to group think and the suppression of innovation and diversity.

Existential management takes entrepreneurialism and macro-economic ideas–like Christensen’s disruption theories–and casts the challenges of business into a zero sum landscape shaped by arguments to induce management to operate through a sense of  impending doom, that without new principles of business their companies will crash and burn. To the good, there are times when raising the spectre of a dangerous future can help focus attention, but this is easily overused.

I am not making light of the core truths of some of these ideas, such as the potential for companies to disrupt established industries or markets, as Apple, Google, and Uber have done, or the vast potential of lean and agile practices for business. However, the tendency toward hyperbole, and a deeply sententious, and sensationalist writing style by many in these threads often obscures the foundational value of the core ideas being expressed.I am not making light of the core truths of some of these ideas, such as the potential for companies to disrupt established industries or markets, as Apple, Google, and Uber have done, or the vast potential of lean and agile practices for business. However, the tendency toward hyperbole, and a deeply sententious, and sensationalist writing style by many in these threads often obscures the foundational value of the core ideas being expressed.
At the highest level, those exploring work futures blend cultural and economic criticism, advocacy for a more humanistic set of principles for the management and operation of business, and the scientific insights coming from fields like complexity theory, cognitive science, behavioral economics, and social psychology. As I said in a recent keynote, the shared premise of those investigating work futures is the application of new understanding about human interaction, motivation, and drive, and to embody that understanding in a new way of work.
In the months and years to come I will continue to explore and research the threads that make up the fabric of work futures, including these:

  • Tools for Work Communications: ‘Social Collaboration’, Work Management, Work Chat, Working Out Loud, and Workforce Communications — I will be closely observing the shifting landscape of the tools being applied for work communications, and the many diverging and competing theories of management that are buried in their architectures.
  • Culture Management — The tools and techniques being used to create an organization climate where higher levels of feedback and greater degrees of quantitative assessment of engagement lead to a better understanding of the sentiment and orientation of all involved in the workplace.
  • The New Social Contract — I’ve started a new series on Gigaom Research focused on the changing social contract: the operating premises that underlie the relationships between employees, management and the extended workforce of part-timers, freelancers, and independent and dependent contractors. The new social contract is also influenced by issues like diversity, economics, regulation, and the role of government and other non-corporate actors, like unions.
  • AI, Robots, and The Ephemeralization of Work — The rising power of  robots, artificial intelligence, and algorithmic processing of data is leading to many occupations being taken over in whole or part, with humans having to find work elsewhere. This is one of the most critical trends in work futures. wrote in the Pew Research report AI, Robots, and the Future of Jobs,

    The central question of 2025 will be: What are people for in a world that does not need their labor, and where only a minority are needed to guide the ‘bot-based economy’?

  • Fast-and-Loose Organization and Culture — A great deal of the smoke and heat in ‘the future of work’ is about new forms of organizations relying on different cultural foundations. This includes the democratization of work in general, and the adoption of new approaches — like Holacracy — that rework the notions of business management. The emerging consensus is that organizations are moving toward lateral and bottom-up networks and away from top-down hierarchies. (Note that hierarchies are networks, too, but ones with slow-and-tight forms of communications and control.) Today’s companies are becoming fast — agile, flexible, resilient — as opposed to slow — stable, rigid, unchanging. To become fast, you have to become loose: relaxing the strong ties of hierarchic controls. I will be tracking the advances made in this area closely.
  • Leadership and Management — Even management gurus have been suggesting that management has to be rethought in light of the changing conditions for organizations, today. Gary Hamel described the need to move away from bureaucracy in The Beyond Bureaucracy Challenge: Creating Inspired, Open, and Free Organizations, and asking the questions that will shape my investigations in this area:

    Managing is largely about controlling and coordinating — the question is, can the work of managing be pushed out to the periphery of our organizations? Can it be automated? Can it be dispensed with entirely? Is it possible for an organization to be highly decentralized and precisely synchronized? Can you get discipline without disciplinarians? Are there ways of combining the freedom and flexibility advantages of markets with the control and coordination advantages of traditional hierarchies? Can we reduce the performance drag of our top-heavy management structures without giving anything up in terms of focus and efficiency? To what extent can “self-management” or “peer-management” substitute for “manager-management?”

    Lamentably, bureaucracy lives on, where the few rule the many, and hierarchic management is still accepted as the norm. Entrepreneurial management is becoming the norm, but that may not be going far enough.

  • Innovation, Creativity, and Learning — Central to many discussions about work futures is the premise that increasing innovation in established companies is problematic, but unleashing the creativity of employees is essential for companies to compete and survive in times of rapid change. As a result we see a great deal written about practices to increase innovation, such as continuous learning, and the selection of people with certain psychological traits — like curiosity — as a precondition of increased innovation.
  • Cognitive Science —It’s interesting to see that cognitive science has recently shed light on common fallacies about learning, such as the notion that we learn better by focusing on a single skill at a time (see Cognitive Science Upends Conventional Wisdom About Studying). Like that example, there’s a long list of new findings from cognitive science that should have major impacts on business, management, and how we perceive behaviors at work: others and our own. However, much of these findings haven’t found their way into the workplace.
  • Work/Life Balance and the Costs of High Performance — Recent discussions about the costs of high pressure work environments — including the buzzfest about the New York Times exposé of Amazon — have brought the tension between ‘high performance’ workplaces and work/life balance to the forefront. I will be at the forefront of those discussions.
  • Open offices, remote work, and the mobile workforce — A revolution has taken place in business in just the past five years, driven by the rise of mobile devices and ubiquitous connectivity, we’ve witnessed wholesale changes in the physical layout of offices and the diaspora of workers from the old notion of working nine-to-five at the same desk for twenty years to a way of work that would have been unimaginable ten years ago.
  • Incentives, Meaning and Purpose — Moving past the extrinsic motivations of money and benefits, one of the major themes in work futures is interleaving intrinsic motivations — like meaning and purpose — into a larger mesh, in which human striving can be better understood.
  • Digital Transformation — Digital transformation is gaining greater weight as a result of growing awareness regarding the ‘digital customer’ (which might be better considered the ‘connected customer’). The premise is that businesses have to basically turn themselves inside out to engage customers who are migrating away from traditional forms of media consumption, and are now connected at nearly all times through mobile and other digital devices. This is associated with the growing role of new marketing thinking — based on reaching the customer at all ‘touch points’ along the ‘customer journey’ — and the declining power of the CIO and IT. Companies undergoing a digital transformation often appoint or hire someone to act as chief digital officer, which may be a stint while the company is being transformed, or may be a replacement for the CIO.

You can be sure that I will be trying — over the course of the next year — to create new questions, not just answer the ones I am starting with.It is, I realize, a broad palette, and I am sure that I am setting myself a stretch goal to included all of these topics. On the other hand, considering how these topics inevitably influence each other — or better said, are inherently tightly linked to each other — it would be pointless to enumerate only a few of these and to pretend that the others can be ignored.
I will be crafting a series of surveys in the coming months, working to get at the hopes and fears of the workforce, management, and the individual worker in these areas. If you are interested in shaping the direction of my line of inquiry — or simply would like to remain informed of our efforts — please sign up here.
You can be sure that I will be trying — over the course of the next year — to create new questions, not just answer the ones I am starting with.

LinkedIn Lookup Leapfrogs Company Intranets

In April Ankit Gupta of LinkedIn learned that about 30 percent of LinkedIn users search for coworkers’ profiles each month. Wondering why, he and his coworkers survey 800 plus users about company intranets, where presumably they would have access to profile information.
But they were surprised to find that only 38% of professionals believed their company intranets were effective at finding coworker information, and 58% thought they’d do their jobs better if they could find coworkers with specific skills.
So they have created LinkedIn Lookup to address that specific deep-and-narrow painpoint.

LinkedIn_Lookup

LinkedIn Lookup source: LinkedIn


The mobile app allows users to search for coworkers with specific keywords in their LinkedIn profiles, and then to contact them by email or phone, as long as coworkers opt in.
This is a great example of a deep-and-narrow app — breaking out functionality into an app that does one thing, maps to one specific use case — based on our willingness to shift across dozens of specialized apps on our mobile devices.
This is much like the ‘workstyle’ apps that Jive has been innovating on, and released as Jive Chime, Jive Daily, and Lookup’s direct competitor, Jive Circle (see Jive breaks out of the ‘social collaboration’ platform model with new ‘workstyle’ apps).
LinkedIn is clearly using its large database of user profiles to advantage, and is backing into the enterprise market for work management and workforce communication with initiatives like this.
 

Salesforce Communities renamed Salesforce1 Community Cloud

Salesforce has updated and rebranded its Communities product, now known as Salesforce1 Community Cloud. This extends the functionality of communities, and sharpens the competition with other enterprise social network vendors, like IBM, Jive, Microsoft, and SAP.

However, in its positioning, Salesforce compares the customer and partner communities with Linkedin. I recall that Yammer launched as ‘Twitter for business’. There is an echo here of that: a Linkedin for your business.

Community Cloud is geared towards three sorts of communities:

  1. customer community — marketing and support use cases
  2. partner community — partner and channel management
  3. employee community — social intranets, including mobile clients.

And in all communities, there are a broad spectrum of capabilities, such as business process integration, knowledge base creation, ideation, and Chatter-based collaboration. Commenting on the modular nature of the implementation, Cathy Benko, vice chairman and managing principal of Deloitte Consulting LLP, said

The Community Cloud represents an important moment in the industry, ushering in new lattice-like business models for how people work, how they engage their customers, and how they connect.

I think the lattice metaphor is helpful, and may in fact be the best way to characterize the intersections and overlaps in the three kinds of communities. I recently interviewed Celine Schillinger, and she left me with a cogent line: Social is the new normal. The Salesforce1 Community Cloud is the proof of that saying, simply by focusing on connection, mobility, and ease-of-use –and  without stressing the ‘S’ word — they are rolling out a highly competitive work management platform: one that aspires to become the best of breed enterprise social networking platform.

Some examples of how companies are using the product:

  • Home Depot created a community for customers working on home improvement, but also enabled a employee community linking its 2,200 stores.
  • Deloitte Digital, the digital agency within Deloitte, is lining up 4,000 consultants and teaming with Salesforce to help companies apply Salesforce1 Community Cloud in their businesses.
  • Other companies using the product include British Sky Broadcasting, Cornell University, GE Capital, Honeywell, Key Bank, Pearson, Pono Music, State of Colorado, Tata Communications and Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.

Salesforce is obviously differentiating itself based on the close integration with Salesforce CRM offerings, and the ecosystem of apps integrated with that infrastructure.

 

Trello and Atlassian are quietly making inroads and announce new funding

[Update: This post has been updated to reflect Atlassian’s $150 million funding was in April, not July.]
Trello announced new funding in the past week. In an earlier version of this piece, I reported Atlassian also raising money last week. That funding actually took place in April.
Atlassian, the work management company, and the maker of Jira, Confluence, and Hipchat, has sold $150 million of its shares to T. Rowe Price, which values the company at $3.3 billion. This was first reported by the Wall Street Journal. This is approximately eight times the 2010 valuation when the the company sold $400 million in shares to Accel.
This is a private offering of stock, and employees of Atlassian — now 800 in all — are permitted to participate. So, in effect, this is a means for the employees to gain some liquidity without the company having to go public.
Atlassian is a real maverick in the tech space, having not a single salesperson, and relying on word-of-mouth marketing exclusively. This means that its margins are very different from other companies, spending just 10%-15% on sales and marketing expenses, much lower that the more common 40% of gross sales.
Atlassian has been consistently cash-flow positive every quarter for the past 12 years, as I learned in a recent discussion with Jay Simons, Atlassian’s president. In that discussion, Simons spelled out that Atlassian’s products are often brought in by developers, and then over time, they spread to other parts of the company. And as that happens, there will be an increasing need to manage more complex relationships within the company and so customer management will be needed if not actual sales people.
Trello, the popular team task management application, has been spun out of Fog Creek, raising $10.3 million in a series A round led by Index Ventures and Spark Capital. Fog Creak earlier spun out Stack Exchange (which also saw investment from Spark and Index, as well as Union Square Ventures).
Trello uses a Kanban approach to visually organizing sets of tasks, and was one of the leaders in our 2013 review of task management tools (see The 2013 task management tools market). This is a figure from that report.
Figure-8.-Trello’s-board-and-card-user-interface-708x653
Trello will be using the investment to grow its 4.5 million users. The product will remain free, but plans additional paid features for business and enterprise editions.
In other news this week, Gigaom’s Barb Darrow suggests that Amazon is in a serious battle with Google and Microsoft for the cloud computing sector that Amazon Web Services pioneered, and major customers — like Dropbox — may have already started migrating off that platform. This is following Amazon’s earning announcement, where ‘other income’ — mostly income from AWS — decreased from last quarter. Considering that Amazon announced a Dropbox competitor — Zocalo — recently, a Dropbox defection shouldn’t come as a big surprise (see Amazon enters the distributed core market, competing with Google Drive, Box, Dropbox, and a few dozen others). But if deep-pocketed Google and Microsoft want to continue a war of decreasing margins, Amazon might be in trouble.

What does Facebook at Work mean?

I wonder what a Facebook at Work product would look like. Well, we might get the chance to find out because the word on the street is that Facebook is at work on Facebook at Work.

Apparently this is an outgrowth of an ad hoc query at Quora about the tools that Facebookers use internally, answered by Facebook’s Jackson Fabbard. He stated that Facebookers use Facebook internally, along with IRC-based chat, video conferencing, and various developer tools. He’s based in London, and so is the rumored project.

Now, the word is, the company is at work on taking Facebook’s capabilities — like Facebook Groups and Group Messaging — out to the market, so that others can communicate internally, and to remain connected with outside contacts, too.

Obviously this could be massively disruptive to last generation work tech players, and not just because Facebook has over a billion users now, but because they have made a serious transition to mobile, and breaking functionality into a suite of apps.

Imagine a suite of Facebook apps that work for personal and corporate purposes, integrated with an IRC-inspired chat solution, and capable of integration with other tools.

My prediction: Facebook will be buying Slack (Tiny Speck) in the next short while, or some other company with similar technology.

 

What does the Cisco/Jive partnership mean?

Earlier this month, Cisco announced that it was shutting down internal work management platform Webex Social, and at the same time announced a partnership with Jive. Let’s break this down.

First, Cisco has been getting nowhere with Webex Social. As I wrote back in November in Cisco sees a decline, and collaboration is flat:
Cisco 1st Quarter Revenue %

Digging into the enterprise software side of things, “collaboration” — which includes WebEx, Jabber, and the former Quad enterprise collaboration tool, now renamed WebEx Social — only grew 1% in the period, which is really flat, and is only 8% of the companies revenues.

I don’t think we can expect much innovation coming out of a “collaboration” product that is based firmly on the WebEx brand and now long-in-the-tooth notions of ‘enterprise collaboration’ based on video-conferencing rooms instead of lightweight, real-time chat that is cropping up everywhere (see Real time isn’t what it used to be: It’s really real time, now).

The Data Center line item grew 44% in the same period, which shows the direction the company’s revenue  is headed.

Cisco’s Quad — er, Webex Social — was actually a pretty good work management solution: activity streams, projects-based work interactions, tasks, files, etc. — but Cisco couldn’t sell it, or at least couldn’t grow it into being a serious competitor.

In December, Cisco bought Collaborate.com (see Cisco acquires Collaborate.com, but not a peep about Webex Social) without even mentioning Webex Social. It was clear that buying Collaborate.com was all about mobile, and tellingly, the announcement made about shutting down Webex Social made no mention of Collaborate.com.

Peter Ulander, VP of collaboration marketing at Cisco, wrote the company’s blog post on the news:

We’re also announcing the end-of-sale of WebEx Social today. As the market for enterprise social software continues to develop, we’re seeing the market consolidate around key vendors. To provide the best flexibility and outcomes for our customers, we’re expanding our focus to work with these vendors’ products and to provide native integration with products in our collaboration portfolio. Rather than emphasize social within one product, we’re making sure it’s an integral part of all our products.

And the Jive partnership? The two companies had already integrated the solutions for more than 60,000 users at Thomson Reuters, so that deal might have been the final nail in the coffin for Webex Social. And of course Jive — who has been struggling in recent quarters — wants to blow the trumpet about this deal as loudly as possible. The stock market has responded with a 10% jump since the announcement in early May.

So this is a strategic retreat from collaboration for Cisco, and otherwise they would have acquired the struggling Jive. Let’s face it: Cisco has its own problems. Cisco has laid off 12,300 over the last two years, and sales declined 5.7% in the last fiscal year. The CEO, John Chambers, is in the news today, urging President Obama to end the NSA’s widespread surveillance because of the erosion of trust and confidence in US technology — and Cisco — that it is causing. This included the mention of photos that circulated on the web of NSA agents opening Cisco component boxes, as reported by the Financial Times:

There have been allegations that the NSA has intercepted IT equipment in transit from manufacturers to customers to help monitor and gain information on surveillance targets.

Jive has momentarily slowed its stock’s precipitous nosedive with this news, perhaps, but not the structural problems at the firm (see Jive posts $146M in 2013 sales, with losses of $75M), and the firm is being shopped for a sale, but has gotten no bites (Jive is apparently up for sale, but no one seems interested).

So, in the final analysis, this is what the news means:

  • Cisco was getting nowhere with Webex Social, and decided to end its strategic push into collaboration. Going forward, Cisco will likely partner with a variety of firms, based on tactical reasons. This means that Collaborate.com is also a likely candidate for sunsetting, too.
  • Jive has tried to make this sound like a new dawn, but it’s not. Cisco is using the announcement to muffle the news about Webex Social, and to allow the company to say that collaboration is critical and important to Cisco, while the meaning of this is exactly the opposite.
  • Jive’s real situation is unchanged. Cisco is unlikely to do very much for Jive, aside from some low-hanging fruit. So, Jive is still on the verge of running out of cash, and options.

Cooperative work management company Smartsheet raises $35M

Smartsheet, the work management tool with a spreadsheet-like user experience, has raised $35 million in a round led by Sutter Hill Ventures. Previous investors, Insight Venture Partners and Madrona Venture Group, also participated in the round. The company’s funding is now $70 million to date.

Smartsheet reports that their adoption is very viral, as project teams bring the solution in, and then spread the application by inviting others in the company — and outside the company — to share smartsheets.

Erica Geil, Groupon’s Director, Global Operations adopted Smartsheet for the PMO group two years ago, and explains the spread this way:

Smartsheet stood out as the clear choice for our group because it’s easy to use and flexible enough to coordinate a wide range of projects and tasks. It’s been really exciting to see is how Smartsheet has spread like wildfire – from Engineering to our Audit and Travel teams around the world. It reinforces our commitment to provide tools that work however the teams work. Smartsheet works alongside Google Apps and other core systems, and via mobile—satisfying our need to increase efficiency, control costs, and collaborate securely. Smartsheet meets all these requirements and more.

Smartsheet’s leveraging of the familiar spreadsheet design metaphor means that people can get up to speed with it very quickly, although that also makes some of the power of the underlying implementation a bit opaque (see Smartsheet is a social tool with an image problem).

However, I believe that Smartsheet is an undervalued solution in the work management space, and that it is one of the first cooperative solutions available. The technique of cross-sheet linkage — where elements in one smartsheet can be pulled from another — means that cascades of work information can be created without any central authority knowing the entirety of the network of smartsheets. This technique is a breakthrough, and is one of the many reasons the company is profitable and growing rapidly in companies like Google, General Services Administration (GSA), Netflix, Electrolux, Office Depot, Groupon, Red Hat, and many others.

 

Twitter should implement private domains, not just ‘whispers’

Twitter is being battered in the markets, one victim of investors recent skittishness for cloud computing companies with low profits or slowing growth.

Twitter stock fell 8.6% to $38.97 on the New York Stock Exchange, a rebound from the low of $37.24. While still above the IPO price of $26, Twitter has dropped almost half its value since peaking at $73.31 in December 26.

In a recent interview with Emily Chang, CEO Dick Costolo discussed new experiments to increase engagement with users. Emil Protalinski pulled a quote about a ‘whisper mode’ (see Twitter CEO Dick Costolo: Whisper Mode for Public Conversations), where Costolo sketches a picture about new messaging functionality:

So when I talk about direct messaging within the Twitter application and the work we’ll do improve it, what I’m talking about is there are frequently public conversations on Twitter, and Twitter is entirely public conversation. It’s real time, what’s happening right now, public and conversational.

There are frequently public conversations that you would like to grab hold of and take into whisper mode with a friend and say, hey, this thing has happened. Look what these people are talking about. What do you think about this, with a friend or more than one friend. So being able to move fluidly between that public conversation and the private conversation is something we’ll make simpler.

I’ll broaden that discussion and return to a proposal I first made in October (see Twitter should go private: private Twitter accounts, I mean), that Twitter should offer private accounts:

Private Twitter – Twitter is one large namespace, with everything defaulting to the open follower model. And that is a wonderful thing. However, sometimes people want to communicate behind closed doors, and the only mechanism for doing that in Twitter is direct messaging, a feature that is extremely limited and not very Twitter like. DMs are one-to-one communications only, and don’t ‘feel’ like streams as a result. (Twitter should implement group private messaging, for a monthly fee, too.)

I propose that Twitter consider the implementation of private twitter domains, which would be either for-fee or advertiser-supported. The functionality would allow a business, for example, to use a twitter subdomain — like adjectivenoun.twitter.com — to which users would have to be invited, or perhaps gain access by confirmation of a company email address ([email protected], for example).

Note that by default, every user would discover (on the day they turned the service on) that they possessed a private twitter subdomain — like stoweboyd.twitter.com — based on their existing user Twitter handle. They could opt not to do anything with it, or to start using it.

The owner of the account would be able to invite others to join, or turn on company email address verification. Once logged in, users would be able to connect and communicate with other co-workers using the standard open follower model, use and follow hashtags (as discussed above), and best yet, create project- or group-oriented contexts that could be private to those invited. This would allow Twitter to compete in the enterprise social network market, where it already has a toehold.

Most businesses would opt for a for-fee use, since that would give them administrative controls. But small businesses, non-profits, and freelancers might decide to simply see ads streaming by occasionally, or plastered on the walls of their streams.

(There are also immediate opportunities for the cross-communication of private and open Twitter, too complex to develop here, but that would represent an area for other marketing and customer-facing services, as well.)

This would open up a new line of business and revenue stream, something like that of Google Apps has done for Google. So, yes, by all means I think Twitter should support whispering, but more critically, they should support private domains.