By Rawn Shah
Teksten er hentet fra
I learned to cook as a matter of survival and to entertain friends in college. I pride myself in being able to cook a good paella dish and also my ‘tour of world curries’. I rarely recall or use recipes or precise measurements of ingredients; mostly I go with what I know I can do with food and flavors. This ability to cook does not make me a reliable, professional chef but it fits our needs for dinners and parties.
This dynamic approach to getting things done to the context available is becoming a necessary skill of the future for all types of creative and knowledge workers. There simply is too much to learn, and often many tasks to tackle; so you work with what you have and try to make the best of it. In many ways, this helps us develop the instinct (e.g., cooking successfully without recipes and exact measurements) through success and failure of what works and what we can do.
In the workplace, the ingredients are all types of information, requests, to-dos and methodologies that we have at our disposal. We use our network of relationships to help fill in the knowledge that we need or exchange assignments, workload and favors. To support this, we try to manage over each day the streams where all these come from. While some of this can be routine work, it is the non-routine, variable and multi-dimensional assignments that spark our creativity. Whatever the type of job, an essential element is having a system of managing those streams.
It is no surprise that the activity stream, a running flow of content from all of the people you are following, is fast becoming a must-have feature of social network sites. Google’s newest hit, Google+ (http://plus.google.com) is the latest in testimony to the significance of activity streams, along with the two other major players, Twitter and Facebook. Companies of all industries, sizes and locations are making it part of their strategy to be on one or more of these online services with their immense audience reach. However, the power and possibilities of activity streams are barely beginning to emerge. We need more than just information at hand, but to do something with it quickly and in context.
To see what lies beyond just raw information take a look at two other cloud-based services, Socialcast and Yammer, who have taken the activity stream to a corporate audience, allowing employees to connect and talk to each other. What these streams, and the social networks mapped by them, are achieving is to make evident the real network of relationships across the organization and beyond it versus the traditional hierarchical structure that we assume is how work gets done.
Socialcast and Yammer both add more than what we see in Twitter, Facebook and Google+. They allow the corporate features that the public sites lack: integrating with corporate directories and databases, integrated analytics, and embedded applications. In my cooking metaphor, they allow one to create specific dishes according to the recipes they have at hand, but perhaps not explore other recipes not yet designed. In reviewing the Podio activity stream-based cloud business service, however, I’ve seen the new high mark to reach for.
Originally founded in early 2009 in Copenhagen, Podio offers much more beyond interaction with people or groups; it provides real apps and forms-based tools that anyone can build into the service. An activity stream by itself is simply a series of posts of text, photo or video content. You read or watch them and then go off to another application to do something about the content. Most streams-based tools simply allow you to communicate.
I came across them during the Boston stop on their summer World Tour on the subject of “The Future of Work” hosted by Stowe Boyd. I later had a Skype call with one of their founders, Kasper Hulthin to discuss both the changing nature of work and how Podio fills a need.
What Podio has done is make it possible to integrate our workflows and tasks directly into the streams, not just read about them. So when John in accounting asks you to fill out a field for an expenses form, you don’t need to launch another application; the fields can right there in front of you to fill in and submit in a short message. Considering how many applications out there are based on input forms, this makes it now simple to integrate them into the mode of how more people are working now: in short bursts of communication with many people in their network, multi-tasking as necessary.
This is a subtle but major shift in how software is designed. Decades ago, the computer wrote software completely from scratch, building entire user interfaces, as standalone systems. Later, applications started to integrate into multiple data sources and pull them into their own interface. Top vendors then saw the need for a more generic application interface beyond what operating systems like Windows or others could provide, leading to more complex graphical libraries, integration points and support for multiple operating systems. When Java and later the Eclipse platform was released, they became the first complex and full featured open standard multi-purpose and multi-operating system application interface leading to an explosion of new applications.
All this while, vendors tried to cram more and more features to make theirs as theinterface to use. Web and cloud based applications have certainly become mainstream moving the debate in a new direction. What activity streams brought forward is not only the reality of how people communicate, but also the notion of smaller simpler nuggets of information at a faster pace; the pendulum swung almost too far until Facebook started allowing apps into their environment.
The format now is to make it simple almost trivial to create and send messages directly to people or groups across our networks, inside and beyond our organization. Beyond that we also seek to try to tackle simple ad-hoc tasks with these messages: scheduling meetings and events, responding to polls and surveys, sending reports and status messages, list and execute our to-dos and assignments.
However, the context of what we need them for varies quite significantly with each of our job roles and tasks at hand. I refer to them as situational or ad-hoc projects to contrast against the complex projects that require project management skills, formal definitions, official work assignments, and so on.
The creative jobs of today force us to be much more flexible creatures, not only juggling many different tasks but also the context and background behind each of these tasks. A tool that can pull together the information, the people, work status, and related data into the context of a single ‘app’ that any one of us can build as flexibly as the way we work is the sought-after Sangraal of today. This is not about making a complex tool with a rich feature-set just for our own use but something simple and necessary for the scenario. We’re not talking about making a soufflé, but perhaps cooking a plate of spaghetti with a simple marinara sauce.
Podio may be one such tool. It certainly has the key elements: work networks, interactions and activity streams, and workflows. It is designed for small and medium businesses primarily although per my interview with Mr. Hulthin, there are also departments and teams within larger companies also using the platform successfully for the specific needs.
Where it excels is the simplicity to building simple apps and forms. In fact, it is so easy to build apps, Mr. Hulthin claims that there are now over 25,000 apps shared on their developer network; a remarkable feat for a tiny startup. Consider the effort it took for major companies like Apple, Google and others to build sizeable app stores and markets of their own; then consider this tiny startup barely 2 years old, with thousands of apps for client management, education, marketing, HR, scientific research, finance, project management, product development and more, for over a dozen different industries.
Looking at how well Google+ has grown, over 10 million users in the first month according to some reports, they certainly have the population force to be a leader in basic activity streams. Google’s other cloud-based apps like their Maps, Docs word-processor and other productivity tools make for good candidates to integrate into their latest social network service. Even then, these are still not trivial to recombine several of these into a focused app for our individual needs without some web development knowledge.
Every future office worker may become a developer in their own right, although not in the category of building complex tools that take years of software development education and programming experience. We are talking about no need to have such schooling, but being able to create something in a simple, intuitive manner. We don’t all need to become expert chefs of our own right, but being able to cook or prepare one’s own food certainly gives us a leg up on the competition.