I am infatuated with the power of the Tomfoolery.com credo, ‘all work is personal’. As we move toward a more cooperative approach to work, the collaborative premises will seem less helpful, and perhaps even a barrier to getting things done.
Consider for example the premises of teams and teamwork. The collaborative tool manifestation of teams is the creation of work contexts to which people are invited, and as a consequence of being a member of the group they gain certain capabilities, like seeing documents, or creating and pushing tasks (‘assigning tasks’) to others. In many cases, today collaboration tools don’t actually allow sharing of information except through membership.
I am heartened to see more tools that support extra-group sharing as a first-class modality. Asana, for example, supports the sharing of tasks (and subtasks) with individuals who are not members of the workspace or project where the tasks are defined. This allows Asana to be used as a personal tool — with all its rich task model — but without the slow-and-tight considerations of groups: ‘Who should I invite/exclude? I need to bring in Jenna to this group, but there are a few items here that I don’t want her to have access to, so I will need to create a different group, and move tasks from the old one to the new one.’ and so on. These are the sorts of costs that mount up in slow-and-tight organizations of work.
Because the term ‘sharing’ has so broad a usage, I will call this flavor of sharing ‘tooing’, as in ‘I have access to this task, and Jenna does too.’
However, by being able to simply ‘too’ tasks with those people that need them, and to drop the concept of a team, and a shared context, things get easier in some ways, and complex in others. For example, what if there are a collection of documents that are needed to be tooed in order to for the task in question to be done?
I think the answer to that will be a challenge for those planning to make future cooperative tools. The reality is that tools like Dropbox are rapidly becoming the virtual file store for cooperative and collaborative work approaches, and I expect we’ll see solutions coming there, like smart folders: I could create a list of docs to too with Jenna (and others) which are treated as if it is a Dropbox folder associated with the task, and Jenna could downselect a small set of files for a second virtual folder that she would associate with a subtask, and too that subtask with another contributor. Note that this virtual file capability could come from Dropbox, or from a tool like Asana or Dispatch that support dropbox integration or direct uploads. The ‘smarts’ could be managed by the app doing the tooing, and the files could be stored wherever.
As you might be sensing, this pulls the notion of membership inside out: instead of belonging to a group, the participants are in effect following a specific task and specific folder. And they work as individuals, tooing information through personal connections.
I saw an announcement from Dispatch.io, a NYC startup I am following closely. The announced that they were going to supporting the tooing of individual items within ‘dispatches’ (their not particularly helpful term for contexts). I went to see what they were up to and it’s not what I would have hoped for.
Dispatch items are (basically) files, links, or posts. These can have comment threads — which is the social aspect of the tool. I had hoped that I would be able to too any of these items with individuals on a case-by-case basis: especially the comment threads.
Dispatch implemented a tiny subset: you can too the file associated with a file item, but without the comment thread. And links and posts are not supported at all. Grr.
Perhaps this is an effort to counter the possible conflict in people’s minds with Dropbox functionality. But I think the way to do that is to offer a more cooperative model of work-oriented information tooing. Instead of using ‘dispatches’ as team contexts, I want to use them as personal thematic collections, more or less like tags, or Mightybell’s spaces. In some cases I will invite someone to share a whole collection, but generally my relationships are looser than that (or tooser than that).
My collections are longer-lived than project duration, in general, since my ‘work’ is largely independent of the projects I am working on. My research and my thoughts on it — even when arising from projects involving others — is my own: I possess it. It is not owned by some company, or mutually shared among the members of a group.
In a cooperative world, the participants dig their own holes, and own their own shovels.
I hope that the folks at Dispatch rethink that feature, and make it work more like an Asana task (more in ‘toon’ with the Asana task model).