You walk into work and your boss stops you at the door.
She wants that marketing plan for next year done in two weeks. It needs to be fully fleshed out and incorporate ideas not just from your colleagues in the office but from partners, investors, and consultants.
OK, what do you do first? Panic at the disco followed quickly by heavy doses of coffee, right? Run around the office screaming like you are a drama king?
For most of us, after the initial shock wears off, we jump into email. It's a bit like a firestorm of hyper-messaging. I know this from personal experience. I can send a couple hundred emails in a morning. We go into this mode because we know at least half of the messages we send are going to go into a black hole. When we start doing online research, that leads to a bunch of URLs we forward to people. When we need to give the boss an update, we send an email. Entire projects ride on the success of hyper-messaging. Eventually we'll gather up some info we can use.
Yet, it isn't really working. The responses come in too slow. People tend to ignore messages that ask for too much information. Part of the issue is that we've replaced one tool for another. As much as I like Slack, it's essentially a hybrid of instant messaging and email. As one productivity expert told me recently, it's a flashier version of IRC, which was invented back in 1988. It's just as easy to ignore a Slack message as it is to ignore an email, although if it's in a public channel, everyone will know you're ignoring it. That said, Slack doesn't really address the underlying problem of workplace collaboration from start to finish.
As you may have guessed, Dropbox is figuring it out.
A blog post today hinted at the main reason the company is shutting down the Mailbox app early next year. Here's the best line: "We've come to believe that the best way for us to improve people's productivity going forward is to streamline the workflows that generate so much email in the first place."
Bingo. Or maybe that's a double bingo, because Dropbox has already started working on the problem. A few weeks ago, they rather quietly released a beta for Paper, an add-on to Dropbox that lets you collaborate with colleagues. It's the future of the company. For now, Paper is really just a collaborative word processor where multiple people can work on a document at the same time. But it's more than that. In Paper, you can do more than just type text together. You can work on a project. The add-on even lets you see programming code snippets. You can collaborate, share ideas, write out notes, develop a plan, and go from concept to finished document.
Think back to that predicament with the marketing plan. In Paper, you can create tasks and assign them to people on your team. For those URLs you collect, you can paste them into the doc and Paper will format them with a nice preview. Any of the files you have stored in Dropbox are, of course, available in Paper. (For some of us, that means a rich archive dating back to 2007.) You can drop in photos, documents, Excel spreadsheets, presentation slides...anything. The actual doc editor is fairly basic for now, but you can see where this is all going.
What Dropbox is really doing here is creating a new way to work online. The goal is to reduce or even eliminate email. We don't just need Slack, as much as I like that tool. (I'm guessing Slack is busy working on something that's remarkably similar to Dropbox Paper, by the way.) We don't just need an online word processor, which is what Microsoft has done with Word 2016. And we don't need an email app with a better interface. We need to process fewer emails. We need to get more work done without so much effort and without so much hyper-messaging.
What do you think? You can send me an email if you want. But I'm aiming a bit higher this time. If you'd like to participate in a discussion on the topic, contact me with your credentials. I will follow up with details on how it will work.