Tag Archives: Collaboration

The exobrain

stylized brainBack in 2009 Scott Adams of Dilbert fame described his concept of the exobrain in a blog post. He argued that his smartphone was an extension of his brain used for offloading data and outsourcing simple mental tasks. When Dilbert speaks the world listens, and the post is often cited. In later posts he expanded the concept into organizational learning – the organization’s culture is a data store. Pairing organizational culture with data storage and retrieval is nothing new. It’s called knowledge management.

As technology advances and culture evolves the idea of the exobrain as a physical device becomes outdated. Though my laptop, tablet, and smartphone have some specialized capabilities that give them individual exobrain duties, their duties converge more often than diverge. I can communication via text, voice, and video with all three. All three can search the Internet. And all three can store text and rich media. Most interestingly, and most importantly in the case of a scatterbrain like me, no one of those devices represents a single point of failure. I can get through most days without any one of those, and many days without any two.

The same cannot be said of the services these devices access. Going a day without Gmail, Skype, or Dropbox is not so simple. The crucial data I’ve either uploaded to these service or chosen only to download as needed must be available 24/7. I can’t get anywhere without GPS. I wouldn’t even know where to go without access to my calendar. The implications of this shift from dependence on device to dependence on service are pretty astounding. Big players get this. Google is building a network of services that devices must access to be viable.

He who owns the platform wins. As device dependent as Apple’s business model is, it has invested heavily to make sure the necessary services for their devices, such as iTunes and MobileMe, are available to make those devices useful.

The ideal services are those like Gmail and Dropbox that are device agnostic. They become indispensable to the user very quickly. All data is available on all devices and is always current. The second tier of services are those like Evernote. It’s a great piece of note taking software with web tools and local apps for all the major device OSes, but the functionality of the apps varies from device to device. I can take notes on my PC, formatting them to be easily read, but should I access that note from my iPad I have to sacrifice rich text formatting – forever. Livescribe is a more distant second. It uses different data models on the Mac and PC, so simply syncing your notebooks on the cloud only works if you stay within a the same OS family. The utility of an application or service diminishes exponentially as the number of data files the user must manage increases. Thus, Livescribe is flirting with irrelevance if it’s unable to solve this problem.

The Holy Grail, which the top tier services are approaching, is to become a Rosetta Stone. The user needs this service as a bridge between workflows and devices. For example, I can read a Microsoft Word document on a Blackberry without any additional software purchases as long I store it on Google Documents.

As software and services evolve in the media and entertainment space, those tools that act as a platform – accepting all formats from all devices, and make their data available for viewing on the widest variety of devices will win. The standalone editor seat will become a museum piece. Frictionless collaboration is where we are heading.

Fuze Movie announced

Years ago when we were launching Xprove, we met Michael Buday who was working on a very impressive synchronous online video review and approval system. SyncVue might have been a little ahead of its time, but in its latest incarnation as Fuze Movie it might gain traction. Here’s the PR announcement from my friend Kevin Bourke with links.

Catching the wave

Google Wave logo

A few weeks ago I received a Google Wave invite. Unlike Gmail, which I considered a must-have, I didn’t go beating down the doors of colleagues and peers in search of an invite. How much do I need another collaboration tool? Currently I use SharePoint (more on that later), Confluence (enterprise wiki), Twitter, Yammer, FriendFeed, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Skype. And let’s not forget the old standbys — email, list servers, web forums, SMS, and RSS. TechCrunch has a pretty evenhanded review of Google Wave.

The challenge of adopting a new communication platform is the chicken and the egg conundrum of Metcalf’s Law — the value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users. Every time I asked someone about Wave, I pretty much received the same answer, “It looks really cool, but I don’t have an account and I’m not sure what I’d do with it.” One never knows with Google if the justification for the paucity of beta invites is due to infrastructure limitations or the desire to simply create hype through scarcity. A lot of people sitting on a technology not knowing what do do with it is far less desirable than having thousands of folks wanting to get their hands on it — not fully aware that they have no idea what to do with it. Get those early adopters who really want to figure it out using and talking about your technology and it will eventually come together. It’s worked for Google to great effect in the past.

Everyone wants better collaboration tools. In the media production space, Avid’s collaborative capabilities have been our differentiation for years from Media Composer to Unity to Interplay. So this is an area near and dear to my heart and paycheck. It behooves me to get to know Wave.

At the most cursory level, it’s possible to justify my initial skepticism about the value of Wave each time I log in. Of my 500+ Google contacts, only 12 (2.5%) have Wave accounts, and 25% of those I invited. But it’s become apparent that in the professional space Metcalf’s Law is only part of the formula for network valuations. Let’s use Twitter as an example. It’s such a massive network that the first thing a new user does is narrow the list of tweets he sees. It’s not just how many people are on the network, but how many people saying something worth hearing. It’s also about context. Sometimes I want to read tweets about video editing, sometimes I want to read about the Boston Red Sox. Rarely do I not have a preference. Twitter became much more valuable to me after it introduced lists. All the people who talk about media production in one list, sports fans in another, and family members in a third. Here is where Google excels — all its tools are great at filtering content. Wave is no exception, even in its embryonic state.

Getting back to that 2.5% of my contacts on Google Wave. While a dozen people do not a valid network make, I note that these people are all thought leaders in their space — my cousin the professor with the DBA, the director at Avid working on cloud computing and SaaS deployments, the executive director of AICE, faculty at USC. These are precisely the people who will create a network that I will value. Google’s onto something, again.

So here’s the challenge for would-be collaborators. Managing the Wave. Back in the 1990s Lotus was incredibly successful getting large enterprises to deploy Notes. Everyone could collaborate, and everyone did. Most installations were not well managed, and databases sprouted like mushrooms. In fact my first gig in IT consulting was working with a team at a Fortune 500 company to migrate thousands of databases into a single intranet. The project ran out of money before it ran out of Notes databases.

To quote Stan Lee: With great power comes great responsibility. Misuse of SharePoint has already begun infecting corporate knowledge management the way Notes did. Google Wave with its looser structure has exponentially more potential to wreak havoc. As the TechCrunch review notes, it’s imperative IT and knowledge management pros get ahead of this Wave, and third parties such as Avid build the right hooks into these platforms to make them useful instead of overwhelming.

YouSendIt plug-in for the NLE

Of course it’s not the NLE I’d choose to start with…

YouSendIt‘s Final Cut Pro plug-in is a useful editor to editor collaboration tool. Right-click on a clip or a sequence in the FCP project, and choose Export > Send by YouSendIt. YouSendIt’s plug-in gathers the necessary source files in a queue, offering the option of including the project file as well.

Files are not compressed, and playing a sequence requires that the receiver must have FCP and all necessary codecs installed. It’s not much of a review and approval or general collaboration tool, but it might be useful for moving small projects via email without having to worry about attachment size limits.

YouSendIt has taken a first step towards making NLE collaboration over the web viable for small shops, but it’s not there yet. This is a huge growth opportunity, but also an opportunity missed. A Squeeze, ProCoder, or Compressor plug-in would be more useful to small shops.

Announcing Xprove

Today Today Xprove entered public beta. Xprove is an online collaboration tool for video professionals. Producers, editors, and designers can share an approval cut with a client with just a few mouse clicks. It’s probably not going to turn the industry on its head, but if it can save people a few hours a month it’s done its job.

The idea for Xprove in one form or another has been kicking around for almost half a dozen years. Some big players have taken a stab at the review and approval space, but those solutions have cost a lot more than the monthly FedEx and courier tabs of the typical producer. They were also bloated with features such as Gantt charts, time tracking, and project management.

My clients didn’t need that stuff. They already knew how to run their businesses. So with the talents of a couple of kick ass designer-developers, and the generous help of numerous colleagues who answered our online surveys and took our phone calls, we developed Xprove: video review and approval in a few mouse clicks for a few bucks.

Now we’re in beta. It’s been a challenge getting to this point. The product’s been redesigned a couple of times. Just a few weeks ago, the development team decided to forego PHP/MySQL for Ruby on Rails. All this with the nagging startup details nibbling at our toes like a pack of underfed weasels.

At the end of the day, Xprove’s a good old subscription service. As hard as we tried we couldn’t put a lot of Web 2.0 jargon in our marketing materials. But having been through the Web 1.0 thing and we know it’s about more than eyeballs and buzz.

So it’s with great pride that we declare Xprove a Web 1.5 company. Such a declaration’s not likely to spur a herd of VCs into a stampede to our humble offices.

We’ll just have to settle for satisfied customers to sustain our little venture.

Interested in beta testing? Drop us a line and we’ll set you up.