Yammer sales are up 259 percent year over year.
I was mildly interested when I was notified that Azendoo, a France-based task management tool, had integrated Dropbox, but when I went to look at that I stumbled onto something I must have missed in an earlier cursory examination of the product. Azendoo has implemented a model that I’ve dreamed about for a long, long time. (In fact, years ago I designed a tool that was supposed to implement a similar model, called Workstreamr. Now defunct.)
Azendoo organizes visibility around two tiers of access. At the topmost level, there are workspaces. People are invited to join these. For example, below in the left hand pane you see that I have two workspaces, stoweboyd and GigaOM, with GigaOM selected.
The central pane shows so-called ‘topics’ which is where the breakthrough in Azendoo’s approach lies. Users define topics in the workspace as a means of organizing content, and as a way of managing visibility. In most solutions we see some sort of context — a space, project, or group — to which people are invited in order to symmetrically share access to some store of information and conversational streams. However, if you are not invited you can’t see anything going on inside those closed contexts.
Topics are different. They act as a context and as tag to be followed, at the same time. For example, I can create a topic that people can follow like a tag in Twitter, and all public postings made by members of that topic can be seen by anyone following. This support an open follower style of interaction within a business setting.
In the message being posted above in the events topic I have selected ‘public on workspace’ so that anyone following the events topic will see the message and will be able to comment on it.
Azendoo topics are like light: they are both waves and particles. Both a closed, private context and an open, public stream. I believe Azendoo is one of the first to implement this model, and I have been waiting for this breakthrough. Azendoo is one of the first of what will prove to be the next generation of social business software: cooperative work tools.
I have written a great deal about the slide from slow-and-tight to fast-and-loose, and one of the barriers to that transition is that we lack tools that are support fast-and-loose premises of work. In particular, the transition to a pull model of communication — as implemented on the open follower model — as opposed to the push model, which today’s work media tools still rely on almost exclusively. Tools like Azendoo are necessary for companies to make that shift.
Azendoo’s Other Features
Aside from slightly garbled English, Azendoo is a straightforward implementation of the working set of features for a work media tool, like Yammer, Podio, and Jive, albeit a more minimal set. It supports the creation of messages, fairly robust tasks with due dates and delegation, and something called an ‘approval’ which is actually more of a voting or polling post, as shown here.
[This is a minor example of the garbled English. Instead of ‘accepted’ and ‘refused’ I would say ‘in favor’ and ‘opposed’, or just show the thumbs again.]
As I said, I went to check out the Dropbox integration and it works as advertised, along Google Drive and Evernote integrations, although those I didn’t check personally.
The Open Work Model
Azendoo is in a great position to break open the work media marketplace. They have built a much more open way to share information across the organization: people can follow topics, pulling information from members who post public messages, and those followers are choosing what is relevant to them. This break aways from the push model that still dominates in many work media applications, where you have to be invited to a context to receive any information.
The next opportunity for Azendoo is to build the mechanism to allow sharing across workgroups. For example, a consulting company, AdjectiveNoun, that I think is up to interesting things might have an account on Azendoo, and their account identity could act like a topic, but one that is open across the community of companies using Azendoo. I could follow AdjectiveNoun, and one or more topics in their account could be configured to publish to that open topic. So if AdjectiveNoun was holding a public event, for example, they might promote it through that Azendoo open topic, and I would see it appear in an AdjectiveNoun workspace on my home page.
Azendoo has a truly innovative tool, one that has take the idea of following tags and belonging to groups and fused them into a harmonious, two-sided construct: the manifold Azendoo topic. Combined with with the reapplication of the now-standard three pane display, a rich task model, and a very broad team model based on sophisticated privacy and sharing options, Azendoo occupies the new high ground between team task management and work media.
Perhaps we will have to use a new term to differentiate that it is similar to but distinct from either conventional work media or task management tools. Maybe it’s just the maturation of the idea of work media, in the final analysis.
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 contagion, Why 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.
Looking at the sponsors for the upcoming Enterprise 2.0 Summit in Paris I saw an ad for Zyncro, positioned as ‘Your Enterprise Social Network’. Intrigued, I browsed over, and was immediately impressed with what I saw. After creating an account, and fooling with the tool for an hour, I found a lot of innovative ideas, including an implementation of open following, similar to that of Yammer.
The open follower model is what we have come to know from Twitter and other open (‘consumer’ social networks, where a user can follow any other user, and receive their public updates. It is a true pull model, since the creator of the tweet does not need to address the tweets to people specifically.
Most other work media tools that I am aware of do not implement this model fully. Instead they implement a much more limited model, where users are implicitly ‘following’ projects, spaces, or other defined contexts they’ve created or to which they have been invited to. There is no general mechanism for simply following the status updates of people you are interested in. Yammer supports this. And I think it is essential for social networking to flourish in the workplace.
Zyncro takes the idea a step further, implementing something like retweets, or reposts. These are called ‘quotes’ in Zyncro. Here you see where I am logged in and I opt to quote something posted by my alter ego, O Boyd:
Note that I can choose to repost to all my followers, the whole organization (because I have admin rights), or into a specific ‘group’ (the term Zyncro uses for named contexts). I opted to send to the Project X group:
Zyncro has a number of other intriguing features.
Along with files and tasks, the tool supports notes (called ‘information’) and decisions. Decisions are basically notes that are designated as representing decisions, which would make more sense if they were attached to other objects, like tasks and files. For example, I found myself envisioning a task linked to a file and assigned to a coworker, called ‘Review this document for release’. I imagined that a decision could be attached to the task, with the text ‘Approved’, or better yet, a selection from a list of values: ‘approved’, ‘not approved’, ‘rework and resubmit’, and so on. Maybe Zyncro is heading in that direction.
Updates can be voted on, so they can be used as a means of getting back a straw vote on ideas.
When I want to drill down into Project X I click on the Files and Groups, then select Project X and I am show this context, with Messages of that project being displayed:
When I select the Tasks tab on the upper right, I am shown the tasks associated with Project X. Here I am showing all ‘tasks’ which includes information and decisions.
Note that I can opt to check off those tasks that I’d like to ‘Include in next meeting’. I can generate a PDF of those tasks, for example, and open that PDF in the next meeting. I like this idea of staging things to be reviewed at meetings, and I can imagine that when integrated with other meeting-oriented tools, that could be quite helpful.
Note also that Zyncro does integrate with a long list of tools, including SurveyMonkey, Twitter, EverNote, LinkedIn, Google calendar and Gmail, and many more, including the companies own applets, like support for tags, and quotes. One of these is Join.me, which I was unable to try, but obviously holding online meetings and then pulling up the list of tasks to be discussed would be straightforward.
The Bottom Line
Zyncro looks to be a very innovative and powerful work media tool, and the company seems to be headed in a great direction toward more open following and a wide spectrum of use cases supported by the integration of third-party apps and Zyncro’s own add-ons.
Richard Hughes, the Broadvision director of product strategy, chimed in on the Yahoo ‘no remote work’ brouhaha with an interesting observation, based on his company’s experience using their own work media tool, Clearvale. Hughes saw a quote taken from a former Yahoo engineer, cited by Nicholas Carlson:
A lot of people hid. There were all these employees [working remotely] and nobody knew they were still at Yahoo.
Hughes found that hard to imagine in a company using social tools:
Richard Hughes, On an enterprise social network you can run, but you can’t hide
What struck me was how difficult it would be for an employee of a company with an established enterprise social network to hide in this way. Their absence would be noted both anecdotally (“Richard doesn’t seem to be in my activity stream much this week”) and statistically in usage reports.
I work from home all the time, but remain one of the most active contributors to BroadVision’s own internal Clearvale enterprise social network. I’m not the most active any more, but almost everyone who has overtaken me also works from home all the time. Indeed, we consistently see much higher activity from home-workers than office-workers. On an enterprise social network you can run (i.e. work remotely), but you certainly can’t hide – anyone can see what I’ve been doing recently, simply by checking my activity stream.
Whether Yahoo’s move is the right move for their business, I wouldn’t presume to say. But I can’t help wondering whether implementation of a good enterprise social network would be a far less disruptive way for Yahoo to reconnect with its remote employees.
I strongly agree. Mayer may be motivated by the desire to get teams reengaged, after a long period of drift. But that lack of engagement is a management failure across the board, not a failure of remote workers being remote. And rolling out some enterprise-grade work media tools would be a lot less disruptive and employee-friendly than ‘all hands on deck’.
Jeff Weiner, LinkedIn’s CEO, attended a Morgan Stanley technology conference yesterday, and stirred the waters with more information about the corporate social network the company has been hinting at for some time. Apparently, the firm is testing out a new offering internally, as Jennifer Van Grove reports at C|Net:
Weiner used the phrase “eat at our own restaurant” — to stand in for the term “dogfooding” used by other companies — to explain that the social network for professionals is currently internally testing a private-sharing option that works behind the corporate firewall and helps enterprises share privately.
What these enterprise, private-sharing tools look like or do exactly is still very much a mystery, but it certainly seems as if LinkedIn hopes to turn enterprise employee rolodexes, accumulated from years of activity on the site, into more active recruiting and lead-qualifying assets. Weiner also suggested that his company could help enterprises with search, and help people inside a company gain and share access to additional information on members, data not available to others.
Sounds like the beginnings of a customer relationship management system or private corporate social network, doesn’t it? Yammer and Salesforce, beware.
LinkedIn has been moving steadily in this direction, acquiring Rapportive and Connected as two piece of its enterprise social puzzle in recent years.
My bet is that LinkedIn will release a product that allows corporate to share information internally, for example for HR purposes. But I am wondering is this will also extend to a company-to-company interaction capability, like the Open Work model I discussed on Sunday (see Open Work is the next high water mark for social business):
Open Work will play at the boundary [between open and closed communications], so that companies can have the safety and security of work media solutions for much of their communications and coordination of work. But there will be an added element: the ability to publish some information to the wider community, including unknown potential contributors and partners, and to receive messages back as well.
LinkedIn is in the perfect position to pursue this, since they already support a semi-private network of business professional, and they have no existing legacy products in the corporate side.
I will see if I can get a briefing from some one in LinkedIn to make sense of their direction.
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.
Brightpod is a new small and simple work media application that delivers minimum functionality with maximum simplicity. It could be a textbook example for the minimum viable product, in a clean and intuitive design.
For reasons that completely escape me, Brightpod is being marketed as a solution for marketing, but there is nothing marketing-specific in the implementation, aside from some predefined project templates that the company calls ‘workflows’. At present it seems that there are only six of these workflows (such as ‘wordpress site’ and ‘social media marketing’), and
there is no way to create new ones.
[11 Feb 2013 — Sahil Parikh of Brightpod corrected my mistake: there is a way to create custom workflows, which is going to be put on the New Pod page in the very near term.
Also, GigaOM readers can get access to the beta by using the code ‘gigaom’ (without the quotes) at the www.brightpod.com site.]
A Quick Rundown
Brightpod’s notion of contexts are called ‘pods’ (I wonder if they stole that from Dave Gray’s ‘podular organizations?’) These are equivalent to projects. Here I have defined two:
Within pods, you can create and comment on messages, tasks, and files.
Tasks can be delegated and have an optional due date. Tasks must be defined as elements of task lists, and those task lists can be displayed like Kanban boards:
Task lists can optionally be associated with milestones (which have both a start and optional end date) and milestones are displayed with percentages based on the proportion of associated tasks completed.
Messages and tasks can have file attachments, either uploaded from the user’s PC or linked from Dropbox. Here’s an attachment to a task’s comment thread.
One cool feature — one that goes a bit beyond the minimum viable product level — is the Attention page, which is a combination of all of a user’s overdue tasks and upcoming tasks, and delegated tasks that are overdue or upcoming.
Another cool idea is the ’round up’, where email addresses can be added for people that should be kept in the loop on the comment thread of a message without having to be inducted into Brightpod, They can participate just via email, and their replies are added to the thread. Neat.
Brightpod is a small and simple entrant in the exploding work media marketplace, offering the core functionality needed for coordinating work. The offering does not have capabilities that might conflict with other coordination tools, like events, or direct messaging. It would work well as a social layer for groups managing their sharing of documents on Dropbox, most obviously. Perhaps that is how the product came into being? As the necessary social stratum in a marketing firm that was managing their work in Dropbox?
The only essential feature missing that I can think of is some sort of hook into file versioning, which is a messy area. But these folks might have a small and simple solution, perhaps based on Dropbox file versioning.
Oh, since they implemented workflows, shouldn’t I be able to define new ones myself, please? Maybe make a workflow from an existing pod?
There’s a 30 day free trial, and after that there are three payment tiers: $15/month for 5 users, 10 pods, 1G storage; $65/month for 20 users, 40 pods, 5G; and $120/month for 50 users, 100 Pods, 20G. I suppose if your want more there is a way to negotiate it.
I also think it is revealing of the mindset at Brightpod that the company blog is hosted on Tumblr.
I wonder if I could get GigaOM Research to move onto Brightpod?
I’ve been putting off writing about my research agenda for the year, since I just assumed this new role of Social ‘curator’ for GigaOM Research (formerly GigaOM Pro) back in early December. Two months later I think I can talk a bit more about my focus and goals.
Obviously, social business is a very hot marketplace. There’s a lot going on, with major vendors aggressively positioning themselves for a leadership position in what is going to be a huge marketplace, already projected for be headed for tens of billions per year in this decade.
Here is an outline that I intend to fill in over the coming weeks. Ping me on Twitter (@stoweboyd) if I have left something critical out.
Technologies, techniques and communities related to work media (enterprise social networks), social selling (CRM), social media/social marketing, social talent management (HR), social knowledge, social design (and I plan to dig in deeply to the world of developers (Github, Stack Overflow), and designers (Behance)).
Economic and societal drivers, like accommodating the 3D workforce (distributed, decentralized, and discontinuous), the postnormal economy, the power of social density.
Other themes: Debunking the myths of management, social cognition, science not folklore, network science, social literacy.
Future of Work
Post PC, BYOD, BYOS, 3D workforce.
Coworking, workplace design, generational change, remote work.
Innovation and creativity, play, mindfulness, attention, open collaboration.
In the near term I am working on a report that explores a number of themes on the future of work, and I will write a series of posts in the next few weeks on those topics, leading toward that report. At the end of the year I plan to return to a roadmap on work media tools, and revisiting that vitally important area. I am planning several others, one of which is likely to be an examination of the social communities and technologies used by designers and developers.
More to follow.
I have been testing out Crowdbase, a small and simple private social network centered around notes, links, and questions. It’s value proposition is limited discourse, and does not include events, tasks or documents, elements that seem primary in most work media and task management solutions.
Crowdbase seems to be driven by some slightly contrarian sentiments:
We started using the internet to connect by email. Then came Facebook and other social networks to help us share our personal moments in real time. Now, enterprise social networks are trying to bring the social revolution into businesses—but in reality they deliver a lot of noise that doesn’t assist long-term productivity.
At Crowdbase, we believe enterprise social networks and knowledge management should be reinvented to make businesses better. And that’s why we’re building a social knowledge platform, our own blend of algorithms and technologies, to help people structure knowledge to get better answers and discover new things.
I like the social knowledge notion.
Operationally, Crowdbase works something like a private Pinterest or Pinboard. After creating a network, which requires a corporate email domain, like @stoweboyd.com, users can be invited with whatever email address.
The best model of use is to add a bookmarklet to your browser, so that webpages can be saved and shared when you are browsing them.
When adding new items to your Crowdbase, they are organized by primary categories. Secondary categories are also supported, so Crowdbase’s taxonomy is something like tags, although with the addition of a primary category.
When links are added, the entire page is loaded and textually analyzed by Crowdbase, and the tool makes recommendations on possible categories based on a deep general taxonomy of terms. Here, below, you see an item analyzed, and Crowdbase recommended ‘Talent Management’ and ‘Collaborative Software’.
The landing page is the user’s activity stream. The primary user interface is organized in a three panel manner, with navigational elements along the left sidebar, and activity feed in the right sidebar, and various presentations of posted item in the center. Here you see that a question has been made a ‘featured item’ by one of the administrators of this Crowdbase account.
Selecting the Topics navigation brings up a UI like this, with ways to organize based on latest activity, most popular, etc. Topics can specific items can be followed, so that additional items and comments will show in the user’s homepage activity stream.
Each topic has its own page, with an option image (here I opted to not use one). And in the case of the automatically selected topics, or at least some of them, there is a Crowdbase provided definition:
Below this header you would see all the items tagged ‘Talent Management’.
Questions imply answers, and that is the goal of Crowdbase questions, too.
Basically, Crowdbase questions have crowdsourced answers, with users voting for the answers they like best.
And Notes are a way to write arbitrarily long text — like an idea to share with the group — and gather people’s thoughts in the comment thread. Note that these — and the other items — have a history that can be viewed, so that changes made are accessible.
Who and How
I think Crowdbase could fill a gap in the coordination of work for people who are using lightweight work management tools like Asana, Trello, and Do. These often have no obvious way to share information other than tasks (except as attachments), and so a tool like Crowdbase might be a natural additional capability.
For example, I can upload an item in Crowdbase, and then create a task in Asana to explicitly direct someone to review it. This is made simple by the use of the Asana bookmarklet, which captures the URL of the page that’s open. In my case I am tasking myself, but the general principle holds:
Naysayers might argue that an organization is better off with a single integrated tool, in which tasks and these shared notes, questions, and links would be managed in the same way. Perhaps that has some validity, but I favor using best of breed solutions for various sorts of sharing. And many companies have decided to use team task managers — like Asana — because they are extremely focused on getting things done, and less on a stream of social chatter. Nonetheless, there is still a need to share ideas and links, and so this hybrid might be the answer.
Crowdbase is a small and simple private social network, organized around the sharing of links, notes, and questions. I have been using it for several weeks. Although there are a few tiny glitches in the editor, I have found the automatic topic analysis helpful, and that and the tool’s other capabilities have fit very well into my work flow.