About James Sposto

James Sposto is Co-Founder and CEO of Xtrant and Co-Founder and President of Sposto Interactive.

Shrödinger’s Elevator

therbligs_lgThe Xtrant offices reside on the 4th (and top) floor of our building – a converted cotton warehouse in downtown Memphis.  There are two elevators in our building – they are around the corner from one another.

The “New” elevator around the corner has an indicator of what floor it is on – on every floor.

The “Main” elevator only has an indicator on the lobby floor.

This has caused me (and many of the folks who work in our building) to adapt our behavior.  When we approach the elevators, we first check the “new” elevator to see if it’s on our floor.  If so – decision made – hit the button and ride it down.  We know that the elevator is already there waiting for us.

But if the “new” elevator indicates it’s on another floor we beeline to the “main” elevator and take our chances.  That main elevator is like Shrödinger’s cat. It exists in a cloud of probabilities that include the chance the elevator is waiting and ready behind those closed doors.  We know that we’ll have to wait for the new elevator, but we may not have to wait for the main elevator.  We’re adapting our behavior to favor efficiency.

To save time.

Time is the most precious commodity we humans have, and wasting time is literally robbing life from us.

What does that have to do with Xtrant and Productive Sharing?

Years ago we created the first version of Xtrant as the client extranet for Sposto Interactive. It stemmed from my pure HATRED of chores.  In this case keeping track of projects for various clients and the need to document and track and file and account.  We could have hired people to do those chores (i.e. middle managers), but instead we developed a software layer to sit between our clients and the team doing the work.

This gave us two benefits:

1. Communicating and sharing through the extranet created an automatic “paper trail” needed for accountability. No extra steps.

2. By not needing as much middle management we could hire more “billable” employees. (Writers, designers, developers, art directors and creative managers.)

There is value in the act of creation.  When that creative flow has to stop to document and organize for the benefit of others – or even for yourself, you lose some of that value.  Chores are necessary to prevent entropy, and to ensure accountability, but they are not part of the work product.

workchoresplay

Fewer chores mean more time for work AND play!

By streamlining workflow, and reducing the number of chores, you can get “more work” done and  get more life out of life. You can get more work done in less time, have more personal time to grow, think and recharge – and make “work” time all the more productive.

Communicating and sharing and managing your projects through Xtrant lets the chores happen organically.  It’s part of the process.

That’s the magic of Xtrant. That’s the power of productive sharing®.

 

Xtrant fits the bill for Memphis College of Art’s unique projects!

mca_smWe love getting to see Xtrant in action, morphing to fit the needs of our users’ unique projects,  so we just couldn’t wait to see the results when Memphis College of Art started using Xtrant!  Carrie Corbett, Director of College Communications had her interest piqued after hearing us give a presentation at MCA.  Now, Carrie says her whole department uses Xtrant “to utilize our time much more effectively, increasing our productivity and decreasing our stress level.”

We asked Carrie some questions to see how her team is using Xtrant for Productive Sharing:

What were the main points of frustration you faced before you started to using Xtrant?
The main points of frustration were getting input from multiple people on the design, and information on the various collateral pieces. We previously had to email people with the pieces attached and it was time consuming and unwieldy to have to go back through the email thread to find people’s comments or determine who had responded and who hadn’t. Also, I was the main point of contact, so if I was away from my office in at meeting, etc., there was no progress until I could come back and send out the email.

How has Xtrant specifically addressed those problems?
With Xtrant, we have the ability to designate all of the stakeholders for each project. We all get the email with the designs from our graphic designer at the same time and, if I am out of the office, there is no time lost on the project. We are able to communicate through the comments and I can see at a glance who has responded and who I still need to follow up with. It has really streamlined the entire process.

What are the top three features you love about Xtrant?
I love the ability to set up and manage multiple projects, each with their own set of stakeholders. I love the fact that you can upload so much information/graphics to each project. I love the comments so that we can have communication about the project.

What specific problems did Xtrant address that other institutions like yours might be able to relate to?
The field of marketing and communications is very fast-paced and loaded with deadlines. Xtrant has allowed us to utilize our time much more effectively, increasing our productivity and decreasing our stress level.

What is the single biggest reason you would recommend/why you love Xtrant? It streamlines our project process and makes my life much easier!

We’re delighted that Memphis College of Art is using Xtrant to collaborate more efficiently! What projects are you working on that are floundering because of friction, redundancy and miscommunication?

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Putting the X in Xtrant (Really Google?)

We launched a new campaign for Xtrant.  Nothing big, just testing some creative – pushed it up on the Google display network (and through our re-targeting service, so yes – if you’ve visited Xtrant you might see these ads other places, thank big brother.)

Get Your Workflow OUT of your Inbox<– Here’s what the ads look like...we happen to have this stock photo of a young woman in glasses holding her head as if fighting a migraine.  It’s eye catching, and shouts “frustration” (or simply being fed up).

But for some reason the Google team wouldn’t approve the ad.  I inquired via email – and they responded quickly (good on Google) and ultimately approved the ads, albeit in a “limited” capacity.

This is what Google’s ad tool has to say about “Approved (Limited)”

Approved (limited) ads can show, but there are limitations to where or when they can show.

Why this happens: This often happens if your ad contains trademarked terms, or if you’re advertising certain products that can’t be advertised in certain places or situations, like gambling, alcohol, or prescription drugs.

Example: If you have a trademarked term in your ad, your ad may get an Approved (limited) status, because it can only show in limited regions per our Trademark policy.

NOW we’re confused.  Certainly we own the trademarks on both Xtrant® and Productive Sharing® and we’ve licensed the stock photo fair and square.  So we sent another inquiry…

Google’s reply (also very nice, good customer service.)

Having looked into the campaign, I consulted our Specialist team to review the ads on priority and received their response few hours ago. The image ads have been marked as Approved limited for exposed skin in the ad’s image and in the website. As per our Ads policy, Sensitive areas: shoulders and area between the underarm line and kneecaps, not including kneecaps should not be visible.

Yes, one can see her shoulders and collar bone. And apparently this is too much for some of Google’s media partners.  Here are the details of all the things that can cause an ad to be limited – ours falls under “Human Form and Contact”

So, is Google being sexists to flag this image?  Is the image actually inappropriate and somehow we aren’t seeing it?  Is there a large Mennonite (love the Mennonites, by the way) population online that would be offended by this?

What do you think? Is this Xtrant ad rated X?

 

The Xtrant Project

This is a project page in Xtrant. It’s pretty simple.final_project_pageIt has five parts, Overview, People, Milestones, Shared Assets and Running Notes.  We’re going to talk about how each of them work right here, and show you how we built the project page you see in the sample above.

Overview
The overview is where you put the basic information about the project.  When you first create a project your are prompted to fill it out the following information:

  1. Project Number (generated by Xtrant)
  2. Project Name
  3. Short Description
  4. Due Date (optional)
  5. Company or Group Name (optional, great for associating a project with a particular client or organization)
  6. Reference Code (also optional, in case you have another tracking or numbering system you’d like to cross reference to)
  7. Project Specifications (again optional.)

overviewNotice that the overview edit screen is where you can remove a project (see the link to the right of the save button?)
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People
The people section is the list of individuals who have access to your project, if they aren’t on this list, they can’t see or collaborate on this project – the graphic below shows the steps in adding a new person to an Xtrant project.

  1. Type their name and click “Add a new contact”
  2. Type in their email address
  3. Select their permission level (Contributors can post and comment, Participants can only comment, Viewers can only look.)
  4. Choose if they can also add people to the project, and if they can see “Classified Content” (i.e. posed assets marked classified.)

addpersonYou will be auto-prompted to add people when you create a new project, or you can always click the PLUS next to the People label to add a new person anytime.

pendingsend
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Milestones
A simple list of tasks and deadlines for the project.  The start date and due date also show up in this list. Milestones consist of four elements:

  1. Date (optional)
  2. Task/Milestone Name
  3. Description (optional)
  4. Status (Pending, In Process or Done)

To add a new milestone click the PLUS (+) next to the milestone label. milestones
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Shared Assets
Shared Assets are posts and uploads that are important to your project.  These can be anything from digital files to web URLs/links to editable text documents and code snippets.  Only those you designate contributor may post in Shared Assets but both contributors and participants can comment on those posts.

In Shared Assets you can…

  • Drag and Drop Files to upload directly from your desktop.
  • Create a Document in Xtrant. XtrantDocs are simple text documents, and can be formatted, edited and printed directly within the app.
  • Post Code Snippets with line numbering and color coding for development teams.
  • Post URLs, Videos (Vimeo / YouTube) and Sound Cloud links.  URLs show a screenshot preview, Video and SoundCloud files  automatically embed in our viewer.
  • Upload Almost any File from PDF to DOC to CAD files and popular image formats (plus quite a few obscure file types.)  PDF, DOC, and XLS and even SWF files will show as an icon and can be previewed with our Google Docs integration.
  • Create GROUPS of assets….

To post assets click the green action links - or drag and drop files anywhere into the green box.When you upload an asset you will be shown an icon/thumbnail, the file name, and fields to name and describe the asset.

You can also make the asset “Classified” before you publish it (limiting access to only those on the project you’ve allowed to see classified content.)

To make an asset group just add more items – in the sample below we’ve added a URL and an Xtrant Document to make our group.

Diagram of Xtrant Shared Assets operation

Notice that the Xtrant Doc is marked as a “Living Document”.  This will allow any contributor on the project to edit it.

Xtrant Docs look like this when you initially make them:

Xtrant Doc ExampleOnce you’ve published your group it will look like this – only images, URLs and Videos will show as thumbnails.  All other docs will simply show a colored icon with the doc type.

Asset Group Published
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Running Notes
Running notes appear on the right side of your project page and serve as a contextual running record of comments or conversations pertaining to the work at hand.  Any project participant or contributor can add or comment on running notes.

runningnotesAll running notes become part of that project’s history and can be referred to without searching through old emails or other records.

Running notes are an efficient way to:

  • Start a Conversation, with the comments below it continuing the discussion.
  • Start a Brainstorm List, with each comment serving as a new idea or list item on that topic.
  • Notify Your Team of important appointments and changes.

I hope this helps, and for even more information on using Xtrant please visit our support site.

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Reduce Email & Leverage Social-Sharing for Productivity

ArrrrghThere is a problem with email in business, and the problem is email.

Over the two decades that email has been a staple of business communication the demands put on it have increased, as has the time-drain and lost productivity it causes. Email is being extended beyond its capabilities.

Now that weeding through “spam” is no longer the issue it was, legitimate email is becoming its own form of spam – endless one-line responses that read like tweets, ignored group emails to no-one in particular, and the dreaded “I lost that attachment” request (which simply means “I missed that email and don’t want to look for it, but I’ll ask you to take your time and send it again.”) The problem has grown so pervasive that a slew of products have come on the market to “help people manage email”, but those product don’t reduce the core problems of email proliferation.

In addition email not only steals time from an organization, it can steal knowledge, as email tends to create personal information repositories instead of centralized ones.

In one bold response to these issues the CEO of Atos Global, a multi-billion dollar IT services firm, mandated that there would be no internal emails among his 74,000 employees – instead rolling out a company-wide custom platform to make internal communications more efficient. But not every organization has those resources. In lieu of such custom systems some organizations (or at least their employees) will instead cobble together a patchwork of available services – online file repositories like DropBox, shared calendars and documents on Google, along with to-do list and project management software. When not blocked by corporate firewall, some will even incorporate social media platforms like Twitter and Face- book for business interaction – choosing the convenience of the familiar platform over security and privacy concerns.

Michael Chui of the McKinsey Global Institute says that workers spend an average of 13 hours per week sending and receiving email and 20% of their time trying to find valuable information trapped in email inboxes, which he calls the “dark matter of the enterprise."

According to the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) many companies use social technologies to reach consumers and gather insights for product development, marketing, and customer service, but they note that twice as much potential value lies in using those social protocols to enhance communications, knowledge sharing, and collaboration within their enterprises. MGI’s estimates suggest that companies using these technologies “can raise the productivity of interaction workers–high-skill knowledge workers, including managers and professionals–by 20 to 25 percent.” 

Making Business Social?

“Enterprise Social Networks” like Yammer or Chatter attempt to clone platforms like Facebook while limiting interaction to individuals within an organization, but while some have found value in these as an internal chat room and file repository, they tend to lack the focus on initiatives to get business done. People want to introduce tools into their organization to improve efficiency, but either the tools are a bolt-on addition to processes already in place – or the tool becomes so complex that it’s a burden for the users to learn to use effectively – requiring a concerted effort and consistent mind-set to be adopted throughout the organization (think Sharepoint).

For a solution to be easy-to-adopt and valuable to an organization it must put business concerns first and still hit the sweet-spot between social engagement, communication, collaboration and project management.

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Malkovich Malkovich Malkovich

Xtrant Xtrant Xtrant Xtrant If you were born before 1975 you probably remember photocopies being called “Xeroxes” after the company that first successfully commercialized dry print technology in 1959 via a giant machine that sat in its own room (and was probably sat ON by an office worker for a derriere selfie before 1960.)

And Xerox still hates that people use their trademarked name as a verb, or as a noun. Though I’m sure they still get a perverse pleasure in people calling a copy produced by a Canon machine a Xerox, like someone happy that their ex accidentally called their new spouse by the ex’s name. What does that have to do with Xtrant (aside from the X in the name?) It’s all about nomenclature, as we now have users that refer to Xtrant Projects as “Xtrants.“  Which is great, but can be confusing without charts and graphs. We have the company Xtrant, that created the product/application Xtrant, and users who each have their own Xtrant Instance (or account), and they may belong to a business Xtrant, and they can make Xtrant Projects – that some of them call Xtrants.  We’ve heard people say “I made an Xtrant for that.” or “I’ll put you on that Xtrant.” So an Xtrant member makes an Xtrant in their Xtrant on Xtrant.  (Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich.)

Here’s that chart.  Behold the potential relationships between Xtrant, members and projects.The Xtrant Ecosystem Is this clear?  Does the nomenclature even matter?

One way that it matters: We’ve had some people say “Xtrant isn’t for me, because I don’t do projects.”  Not true – in fact I would guess that half the projects in Xtrant aren’t projects in the traditional sense.  Many perform other functions – as communications center for a board of directors, or a place for an accountant to post weekly financial reports for a business, even as a platform for teams of students to post research and share knowledge.  What about Workspace? It’s a solid word, and we’re working it into our explanations, but it can sound a bit clunky as well.

What do you think?  Does it matter if someone says “I’m using Xtrant” or “Let’s make an Xtrant for that” or “Put it on Xtrant”? As long as Xtrant is easy to use and provides value it doesn’t matter at all what one calls it. Project, Workspace, Xtrant, Malkovich – just know that EVERYONE on Xtrant can create one and and invite anyone else to work with them.  (And get stuff done, even projects.)

Big Fights = Big Wins

Mike and Jim Battle It OUtI will admit…I can be stubborn at times.  There, I said it.

When we launched Xtrant to be an email killer, or “post email” application, we knew that we’d still have to embrace email as both a unique identifier for our users and as a notification method for updates.  Email is ubiquitous, handy, easy to incorporate – and until our users have our app on their phone to instantly notify them of updates (the app is coming soon) or they are in the habit of checking Xtrant obsessively (some of them do) then email will still be the primary update channel.

Well, if I couldn’t completely kill email, I could at least maim it.  I decided that our email updates would ONLY tell our users that projects were updated and provide a link to Xtrant.  Get them used to using the app and seeing everything in context.

Mike had other ideas.  (He’s the one who makes the magic happen at Xtrant, the one on the left clearly winning the arm wrestling match – dude is crazy strong.) So when it came time to update and redesign our email notifications, and make them slick and pretty, Mike wanted to include as much information as possible, stating that we were missing an opportunity to make Xtrant much more powerful to our users.

I begged to differ – “Damn it, Mike, if we put the updates in the email itself why bother going to the app?  We’re POST EMAIL!!!!”

Well, after much shouting and gnashing of teeth I agreed to consider such heresy against the purity that is Xtrant and began working on a design that would in fact include all that damned info.  We even worked out a way to contextualize the updates so they are even more useful.  And I had the easy part…Mike had to actually write the code that ultimately produced THIS!

BEHOLD the new Xtrant Email Update Design

All the information you need, contextually organized and referenced, with direct links to your project(s) and the assets being discussed.

New Email Format

We know we’ll never really “Kill” email – but at Xtrant we’re trying to keep email in its place.  Email is for correspondence, it’s good at that.  It’s not so great for collaboration and workflow facilitation and productivity – Xtrant is good at that.

Mike was right…I will admit it.  Dude is crazy strong in a lot of ways.