I am just back from a week-long trip to the US where I have truly enjoyed working with a fast-moving, forward-looking team of young developers and businessmen, crafting the newest generation of secure online shared spaces collaboration tool.
If they can pull and execute the plan we have designed together you will see something that rocks. The best concepts of online collaboration and the complement of the very best technological infrastructure one could ask for make this baby technology damn interesting and a tough act to follow.
I have cried for simplicity, integration, high usability.
I have advocated redesign in ways that would make the tool sell itself while getting rid of customer support and extensive manuals.
I have worked extensively at throwing away redundant functions, duplication of features, as well as refining terminology, and simplifying the overall "look and feel".
While I can't obviously share the details of the extensive design plans we arrived at I have had the opportunity to stretch the present assumptions of how collaboration tools should be conceived and to gently open up a more organic consideration of the human, communication and usability-related aspects that are so important to the development of such technologies.
Too often in the hand of technologists or brave businessmen with a keen sense of where technology is headed, many of the newer online collaboration and conferencing companies suffer from the same lack of vision that organizations that have handed out decision-making of their tools and workflow processes to the IT department seem to be victim of.
It is a deeper consideration of the human aspects and the communication vectors governing our work-day needs and habits that must be guiding the effective design of new communication tools in the coming months and years.
The competitive advantage offered makes human factors a central focus point in the development of new collaboration tools that wish to swiftly compete with existing established and popular providers.
Nobody wants to learn new, complex applications.
The mantra is: extension.
Allow me to extend my desktop to yours. My voice to your ear. My word document to your skilled editing hand.
Extend what I already have, know and like.
The name of the game is "hide" yourself.
Be inobtrusive. Easy. Do not intrude. Be quite, gentle, on the side.
Let me call you and fire up the colaboration facilities I need without needing to dress up for a ceremony when only neighbours are coming (meaning, stay-away from elaborate setups that offer you everything and more, like classical conferencing tools do trying to make available every and each possible function desired).
Carry over from real life what works so well for us, and make it secure, reliable, robust...and fun.
Because if it is not as easy and fun as a game, who is going to use it?
I have seen engineers and designers work well over their duty time to refine and enable much of the vision we painted collaboratively in many elaborate physical sketches into an immediate reality inside their powerful computers.
But it will take some time though. And not because they are not fast, but because for any such tool to be a killer app it needs to be truly tested, refined and tweaked to perfection before it gets to be shown to anyone outside the developers room. If you are successful and your technology gets to be used by thousands of people imagine what a malfunctioning installation, a bug affecting users with an unusual configuration may mean to you: hundreds of hours of customer support and lots of money and time for fixing and patching a solution. Something I don't wish to the worst of my enemies.
So, there is a lot of great "design" work going on to develop quality online collaboration tools, and those companies that spend more of this time in "looking", "listening", and "understanding" where exactly their strengths and weaknesses are, are the ones that are going to replace and complement the few limited solutions we know now.
Be ready for a great year. The tools are really coming now.