‘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.

Work Management in Theory: Context

This is an excerpt of the upcoming report, Work Management Narrative, in which I will be reviewing around a dozen products, including Asana, Azendoo, Basecamp, Clarizen, Fleep, Flow, Liquid Planner, Mavenlink, Smartsheet, Trello, Work Front, Wrike, Zoho Projects and others.


Work Management in Theory: Context

Work management is a term that has emerged in recent years as task management tools were enhanced with various social communication capabilities, principally derived from design motifs from work media tools. This increase of capabilities — and the resulting overlap of work management capabilities with those of work media tools — means that trying to assess the trends that are prevalent  in work management really require stepping back. Today, there are a wide range of approaches to supporting cooperative work in the workplace, and they have many features in common. So, in many instances, groups or companies evaluating tools for  team cooperation may consider offerings that are very different in their underlying design, and require correspondingly different approaches to their use.

The Lay of the Landscape

Here’s a table that attempts to make sense of a variety of technologies that are used in business to support cooperative work. It is not exhaustive, but I hope it will clarify some of the distinctions between these classes of tools. At the same time, there is a great deal of overlap so some degree of confusion is inevitable.
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Today, there are a wide range of approaches to support cooperative work in the workplace, and they have many features in common. So, in many instances, groups or companies evaluating tools for team cooperation may consider offerings that are very different in their underlying design, and require correspondingly different approaches to their use.The primary distinction here is the degree of emphasis for task-centric versus message-centric tools. Those that we will focus on in this report are task-centric, even though there have to include some fundamental level of social communication to be considered work management tools. So for example, Todoist is a leading team task management tool, widely used in business. However, the tool lacks social communication aside from comments (‘notes’) associated with tasks: Todoist does not support messaging, discussions, activity streams, or ‘call outs’ (also called ‘@mentions’). While tasks can be assigned to others by the task creator, there is no other way that users can reference each other, or ‘talk’. And at the least social level of task management, personal task management tools don’t allow even the most basic level of business-oriented task assignment. As a result, team task management tools are not covered in this report, although Gigaom may develop a report like this one for that market, at some time in the future.
Work management tools share a lot of similarities with various message-centric work technologies. Note that I have divided the message-centric tools into two sorts:

  1. Follow centric — like Yammer, where the primary orientation of messaging is around following of message sources, and messages are primarily displayed in activity streams based on the user choosing who and what to follow.
  2. Chat centric — such as Slack, where the primary orientation of message is around chat rooms, or channels, and messages are principally displayed in those contexts when the user chooses to’ join’ or ‘enter’ them.

Some work media tools provide a degree of  task management, although it may not be the primary focus of the tool. And, as a general case, products like Jive, Yammer, and IBM Connections have little or no native task management, relying instead on integration with third party solutions. Likewise, many leading work chat offerings, like Slack and Hipchat, don’t have native task management, also relying instead on integration with task management tools, like Asana and Jira.
Lastly, the class of tools I refer to as workforce communications (like Lua, Avaamo, Fieldwire, and Sitrion One) have characteristics that are like those of work media and work chat tools, but are principally oriented toward communications management with an increasingly mobile contingent of the out-of-office ‘hard’ workforce, such as construction, retail and restaurant workers, field sales, security, and others.
At the bottom tier of the table in figure 1 are tools that are not principally oriented toward business use, like personal task management (Todoist, and Google Tasks), social media (Facebook, and Twitter), and consumer chat apps (Facebook M, and WhatsApp). This are widely used in business contexts, although they aren’t geared for it. Note however that this doesn’t mean that they couldn’t be recast as team or work oriented tools, like the trajectory of Facebook for Work.
There are other less-closely related work technologies that are also not investigated here, like curation tools, conferencing tools, and so called ‘productivity’ tools (like Microsoft Office 365, Dropbox Paper, and Google Docs/Sheets/Slides). These, again, are candidates for inclusion in another report.


Next week, I will be posting another excerpt from the report. 

Surprise! Consumer apps get IT approval in small businesses

Employees are driving business apps selection in many small and medium businesses, according to new research. A good percentage of productivity, social and collaborative apps now sanctioned by IT in SMBs were brought in by workers without IT knowledge.

New Microsoft Office ropes in Skype, Yammer, SkyDrive

As Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer showed off the company’s latest Office software Monday, he hit all the right marks — a touch interface, cloud storage, VoIP integration and social networking tie-ins. They had to. But a very different interface might spook current Office users.