Tag Archives: 37signals

User Determined Computing

I’m not sure it’s a new phenomenon, but Accenture reckons it is: employees are more tech savvy than the companies they work for and are demanding their workplace catches up.

A new study by Accenture to be released next week (no link available yet; based on a PR pitch that mentions no embargo) will say that until recently all the most advancted networks and communication devices were at the office. Now they’re at home. The company calls it “user-determined computing”:

Today, home technology has outpaced enterprise technology, leaving employees frustrated by the inadequacy of the technology they use at work.  As a result, employees are demanding more because of their ever-increasing familiarity and comfort level with technology. It’s an emerging phenomenon Accenture has called “user-determined computing.”

The global study of more than 300 Chief Information Officers (CIOs) will argue that “executive and technology leaders are undertaking superficial improvements in their information technology systems rather than making fundamental changes to meet the growing demands of users.” The research will show that the high performing companies are those that are deploying the new technologies.

So far so good (and until we see the report that’s all we’ve got for detail.) I’d argue that this disconnect has existed for years and only been exacerbated by the rise of Web 2.0. But I’m a little less sure of Accenture’s argument when it says that it has launched an internal initiative of its own — what it’s rather lamely calling “Collaboration 2.0”, which involves

rolling out enhanced search capabilities, high-definition and desktop video conferencing solutions, unified messaging, and people pages (similar to personal pages on social networking sites).

A good enough start, I guess, but hardly an office revolution. And I think the term “user-determined” is misleading; it sounds as if users actually have a say in what computers, communications and software they use. Even Accenture’s own Collaboration 2.0 doesn’t sound as if that’s the case. “User-influenced”, maybe.

What do I think? I believe that most companies’ internal software systems need a major more radical overhaul — of five media companies I have had dealings with recently, one still uses the same editing software it had in place more than 10 years ago, another uses a system that has no major changes to its interface since the early 1990s, and another uses DOS WordStar.

I believe that companies need to be more flexible about how/where/when their workers work. The when and where is being addressed with telecommuting and flexible hours. But I also think that workers should be free to use everything that Web 2.0 has to offer — collaboration tools like stuff from 37Signals, Google Apps, Skype, their own hardware, whatever it takes. I know there are security and legal issues involved, but, let’s face it, what worker doesn’t use their own instant messaging program, log into Gmail on their office computer and other “illegal” moves inside the enterprise?

It’s time to let the worker work as s/he wants. If Accenture has spotted anything, it’s probably that the most productive workers are independent workers — those who set up their own systems so they’re not dependent on and held back by their employer. If that’s true, then the logical conclusion is that those employees are probably not employees anymore, but have struck out on their own either as consultants, freelancers or hitched their wagons to smaller, leaner and more flexible startups.

PS I wasn’t hugely impressed with Accenture’s own website, which didn’t comply with the most basic standards of Web 2.0. For one thing, it’s Flash-based, with no options for a quicker loading, HTML version. And the Flash doesn’t load quickly:

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Secondly, a pop-up window greets you on your immediate arrival requesting your participation in a survey:

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Not a good start.

The Merits Of Online Publishing

Jason Fried of 37 Signals, the guys behind web applications like Basecamp and Tada List and Backpack , have published a book on how to build web apps. And they’ve proven a point — that publishing online can be the smart way to go. Jason tells me they’ve sold 4,000 downloadable digital copies of their new book Getting Real in the first week — at $19 a copy, or $49 for a site licence that allows users to make up to 10 copies for co-workers.

That’s $85,000 in pure profit, Jason says. Which I have to say is pretty good. I can’t imagine the same thing would happen, or does happen, for every tome. I asked Jason why he thought the numbers were so high. Here’s his response:

  • It’s easy. buy it now, get it now. you just download the PDF
  • we’ve been talking about our Getting Real process for a long time on our blog, and now people can get the whole thing in a $19 book
  • Lots of interest in how we work. How we’ve been able to build 5 products, write a book, and write Ruby on Rails in 2 years with only 7 people

Interesting. In other words, if a book really adds value to something that has already attracted a lot of interest, you have a ready audience. Even if you keep a blog, and tell everyone what you’re doing and how to do it, there will still be people interested enough to buy the book to read more. And $19 isn’t cheap: That’s a hardback book where I come from, but somehow online, being able to just grab it in PDF in a second, somehow makes the price seem reasonable. As Jason puts it:

I think there’s a big story here… The idea that authors with audiences don’t need publishers anymore. You can take your message direct to your audience. AND you own the rights to your work.

Earn Credit by Recruiting for Basecamp

Expanding on their brick by brick, basics for free, pay for what you need approach, the guys at 37 Signals are now offering an Affiliate Program where users can earn free services:

The Basecamp Affiliate Program allows you to earn credits that are applied towards your Basecamp account. These credits reduce your subscriptions fees and allow you to earn free service. It’s your reward for helping us spread the word about Basecamp. EVERYONE who has a Basecamp account is eligible! When someone uses your affiliate code/link to sign up for a new account, you’ll receive a credit on your account after they’ve paid for their first month.

It’s not particularly new in itself, but for products like Basecamp and Backpack it makes a lot of sense. The basic features of these products — some of which are hived off as separate tools, like Writeboard and Ta-da List — are free but users who like the tools will quickly find they want the paid product. Now they can by corralling others into coughing up.

New Features at Basecamp

The guys at 37 Signals have just announced New Features for Basecamp 2, phase I:

Today we roll out the first phase of “Basecamp 2”

Basecamp 2 is our complete overhaul of Basecamp. We’re speeding it up, making it more reliable, adding new features (and pruning some that are barely used), improving the user interface (and making it much faster in spots), and more. All of Basecamp 2 will be rolled into the Basecamp you already use so there’s no need to go anywhere else, download anything new, or change your behavior. It’s a natural and gradual transition.

We’re tackling this re-write one section at a time. The first section we tackled was the fundamental people/company set-up and project access, along with some other enhancements related to these features.

There’s some interesting stuff in here that I’m going to try get my brain around.

The Fast-moving Backpack

At the risk of becoming a PR machine for 37 Signals and Backpack, they’ve come out with another interesting feature, this time an API:

Jason Fried tells me that the API will mean “developers…can now build on top of Backpack their own apps, pull Backpack data into their own systems, push data to Backpack from custom apps…” These include “Palm apps, Symbian apps, desktop apps, other web apps… dashboard Widgets for Tiger… you name it.”

“Backpack becomes a platform. Over the next few weeks we’ll see some cool stuff.” One example: Polling a Backpack page to pull book data from Amazon, where Amazon reading lists maintained in a Backpack list are turned into an aggregated list. Interesting stuff.

Backpack Offers Tags

I’m just chatting with Jason Fried of 37Signals, the guys behind Backpack, Ta-da List and Basecamp (which you should check out, if you haven’t already). Jason tells me he has today added tags to Backpack. Here’s a snippet of our conversation (and here’s a movie of it in action):

Jason Fried (37 Signals): Tags are just quick and easy ways for people to categorize their stuff
Jason Fried (37 Signals): I just wrote this FAQ that may help:
Jason Fried (37 Signals): so they’re basically just loose categories without rules
Jason Fried (37 Signals): Kind of… Whatever-comes-to-mind categories
JW: do you imagine your tags mixing it up with delicious and flickr tags?
Jason Fried (37 Signals): we’ll be releasing a Backpack API in about 30 days or so
Jason Fried (37 Signals): at that point people are free to mix whatever they want. I’m excited to see what the world does with all these tags
Jason Fried (37 Signals): we have some ideas on how to integrate Del.icio.us and Flickr into Backpack, but the API will give tens of thousands of people what they need to come up with their own ideas.

That could be interesting. I asked Jason:

JW: (could you just give some examples of how you imagine people might use tags in BP, and how they might mix them with tags from other services?)
Jason Fried (37 Signals): sure.
Jason Fried (37 Signals): take this page, for example
Jason Fried (37 Signals): this is someone using Backpack as a simple CRM-like tool
Jason Fried (37 Signals): keeping track of call notes for someone, for example
Jason Fried (37 Signals): you might tag this page: eNormcom Client “Phone Notes” April
Jason Fried (37 Signals): then, if you click the April tag you’d see all the other pages you made in April
Jason Fried (37 Signals): or if you clicked the “Phone Notes” tag you’d see all the other pages that have phone notes on them
Jason Fried (37 Signals): Or if you click Client you’ll see all the other pages that you’ve tagged as Client
Jason Fried (37 Signals): As far as other services…
Jason Fried (37 Signals): You might make a page in Backpack like
Jason Fried (37 Signals): and you might tag that: eTech Conference 2005
Jason Fried (37 Signals): then you might tag some bookmarks at delicious with the same tags
Jason Fried (37 Signals): articles and links that refer to the eTech conference
Jason Fried (37 Signals): reviews, speakers, etc
Jason Fried (37 Signals): then, perhaps, when you click “eTech” inside Backpack, you’d see your Backpack pages tagged eTech *plus* your Delicious bookmarks tagged as eTech
Jason Fried (37 Signals): and maybe your Flickr photos too that you tagged eTech

Lots of potential, I reckon.