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Summary:

Every day, it seems, there are dozens of new applications available to help with different aspects of web working. It got me thinking. What is it we really need as web workers these days, and is anyone working to find solutions to those problems?

tangled

Dozens of new products and applications launch every day to help with different aspects of social networking, information management, and remote collaboration. We test and bookmark those that seem interesting, but quickly forget why we tried them or even where to find them again. They simply don’t alleviate a problem important enough to keep them on the radar very long.

Some of the “solutions” available offer quick fixes to problems we didn’t even know we had, which got me thinking. What do we really need as web workers these days, and is anyone working to find solutions to those problems?

Technology is changing by the minute, and we expect the tools we use to change and evolve as well, but at the end of all the experimentation with promising new gadgets and gizmos, we still have certain core functions to do each day. What we really need is a single tool to help ease the increasing challenge of managing those tasks, while still keeping us up to speed with the changes in technology.

#1 Need: A Centralized Dashboard

If you’re like me, you jump from one application to the next consuming, creating, and managing every type of media imaginable.

Getting a single task completed can sometimes require five separate platforms (email, online document manager, project manager, content editing apps, etc.), and this problem isn’t limited to work-related tasks, since even commenting online has become increasingly complex.

Whether completing work-related projects or simply networking online, it’s often necessary to log into multiple applications. Even the simplest of tasks have become multi-part processes. Simon wrote about this issue in a GigaOM Pro article, Enterprise 2.0: Web Apps and the Patchwork Quilt Problem (sub. req.).

#2 Need: Aggregated Contacts and Information

“I remember talking with Lynne about that company. She sent me the link to their website, but I’ll have to look it up. I can’t remember if she sent it to me by email or if she posted it somewhere else online.”

How many times do we have these conversations with ourselves? Information is shared just as often via Twitter and Facebook as it is by email, and with varying layers of security and the sheer volume of information being generated at any given point, it’s getting harder to reference a given conversation at a later point.

We need a way to not only archive, but also sync and update information across multiple platforms so that we always have the most current version available to us wherever we are and whatever hardware or software we’re using.

#3 Need: Seamless Hardware Transitions

Just as with disconnected software, hardware that doesn’t seamlessly share and sync information and applications makes it hard to transition from one to another. Although options are available (and they vary depending on the phone, computer, operating system, etc.), they’re not always painless, and if you ever switch to new equipment, you’re often forced to switch syncing options as well.

#4 Need: Security

Last, we need better ways to keep information secure and private. After several experiences with bank and network security breaches, I find myself backing out of applications that require me to share information between applications and sites. It’s just not worth the risk. Although I want to find ways to simplify the way I work online, I know that with every application I use and every piece of information I sync, I’m risking the security of contact data, usernames and passwords.

I’m not sure this was our intention, but we’ve become dispersed as a workforce and created ways to better connect and bridge great distances through the use of social networking, video conferencing, and online collaboration, only to find the information and tools we use to manage all that online interaction disconnected and even counter-productive.

What capabilities do you think are missing from today’s collaboration tools?

Photo courtesy Flickr user music_addict_4

  1. If you’re in business for yourself, you need the contacts and info to hook up with CRM and time tracking functions, and then all that should hook up with your accounting and invoicing software.

    In a centralized dashboard. Let me know if you find one.

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    1. Agreed. Basically, everything should hook up. Google? Facebook? Anyone?

      I’m keeping my eyes peeled, Rebecca, and will post back as soon as I hear of something (or invent it – whichever comes first).

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  2. Exactly what my company wants! ^^

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  3. Clever article! Couldn’t help but notice how many times you used the word ‘task.’

    Not saying that we’re a cure for all your needs ;-) but many of them – in particular “information management, and remote collaboration”. I’d love it if you’d take the time to check us out (cohuman.com). Give me a holler if I can be of any assistance.

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  4. This is the “Cloud” version of a familiar problem down here on the ground: too many information “silos.” I think that “data prisons” is a more apt metaphor. Most programs store our data in a proprietary database structure that, for the most part, other applications can’t access. So, we enter the same data multiple times in multiple apps: contact information resides in a contact manager (e.g., Outlook), lists in a word processor or spreadsheet, word processing files for “mail merges,” an accounting program, perhaps a separate time-tracking (billing) program, a project management program, and perhaps a few specialized vertical apps (in my filed, a law practice management program and litigation support software. The web and web apps multiply the silos: we now have to follow our contacts on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, multiple blogs, online bulletin boards, listservs, and on and on. Calendar and task information are likewise separately entered in multiple apps on Earth and in the Cloud. This is the opposite of the original data model for computing: each datum entered only once, in one and only one assigned place, universally accessible throughout an organization. The problem arose for an understandable commercial reason: each application vendor realized that you would continue to buy and upgrade that app–that is, all those apps–if they imprisoned our data in a proprietary database that other programs could not use. Imagine a physical filing cabinet that stored your paper files in a “proprietary” way that made it impossible to move them to a different brand of filing cabinet. No one would put up with that, but we live with these digital data prisons without complaint.

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  5. I’ve been looking for all of this for a while as well. The problem is there are a lot of dedicated softwares out there that are really good at what they do but do not cohesively pull everything together. The closest I’ve found to my ideal so far is http://www.liquidplanner.com. Although tying into a billing and accounting system would be nice but I haven’t seen any API documentation. A direct integration to FreshBooks would be beyond awesome.

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