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.

 

New Features • People Status, Invite Reminders and More.

Xtrant is about shared knowledge and open communication, and it’s also about accountability and trust.  For what we call “productive sharing™” to be truly productive all of these attributes come into play.  To that end we have added a few new features to the “people” section of your Xtrant projects:  Person Status,  Pending/Send Reminder, and Invite Permissions.

pendingsendect

  1. Person Status: When you click on a persons name within a project, in addition to being able to see their contact information, you can now see the last time they’ve visited the project.
  2. Pending / Send Reminder:  When you add a user to a project – their name will have the word (pending) after it until they’ve visited the project.  When you click on their name to view their info and status you will also have the ability to click “send reminder” to re-invite them to the project.
  3. Invite Permissions: When you are adding a person to a project (or when you are in edit mode on that person) you can now let them invite others to the project.  (This is especially helpful if they have their own team members they’d like to share the project with.)

More new features to come.  Xtrant is getting more powerful by the minute – make sure to invite your friends, and let them invite their friends, and so on…and so on…and so on.

Oh – did you see the Time Tracking demo?  (Time tracking is available to PRO users only.)

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How I Lit a Match to the Snowball of Email Chasing Me Into My Own Digital Hell

About two months ago I was asked to work a Start-Up conference for a friend of mine. The pay was great, the time requirement was reasonable, and it sounded like a melding of progressive creatives all conspiring to revolutionize the way business is done. YES. Let’s do this. I expected a mountain of emails with pdfs and maps of the showroom floor. I expected the “Reply to All” debacle that ensues anytime a group of creatives collaborates digitally. I would hesitantly (yet still compulsively) refresh my email in anticipation of the onslaught of information bound to be headed my way as part of this conference.

spokesperson_page

The Spokesperson Project (sans Morgan Freeman)

It never came. I only got one initial email. In the email, I saw that my friend put me on an Xtrant project so I clicked the link in the email. And lo and behold it was as if Morgan Freeman floated out onto a whiteboard (as a disembodied head for some reason) and said…. “here is who you’re working with… see? Amy, Jim, Cheryl, and Jon” … he sees the nod of acknowledgment and then he slowly guides me to the right… “and here is the conversation you’re already a part of… your team knows you are here… and they are discussing the conference and what you’ll want to be familiar with and when- running notes” …. then, right before he disappears, he guides me to the center of the whiteboard… “here is the meat… documents, files, URLs, anything media-related is all here in the middle”….. AND THAT WAS IT. I didn’t need to learn anything. I didn’t need to be trained. I just jumped in and took a look left, right, and center…. and dove into this heavenly arrangement.

How could this have happened? Everything I criticized about Dropbox… a non-issue… everything that annoyed me about email threads… gone.

That's ME in the center.

That’s ME in the center.

So we had our first in-person meeting. It was a new product, but already consultants, contractors, developers, study groups, even a church choir were using it.  And we were too, collaborating online without the gigantic piles of emails floating around in my peripheral view driving me batty. Anything I’m working on, by myself or with others…. MASSIVELY simplified and in one place. Just visit xtrant.com. My delusional fantasies of Morgan Freeman will all make more sense.

Side note: I feel like i want to ambush people on a sidewalk and just ask them what they are doing or where they are going and just say… “let me whip out my laptop and let’s create an Xtrant project… just see how easy this could be” … no matter what you are doing as a group, Xtrant has pulled out all the clutter, left all the substance, and made SHARING (like as a human… like I’m doing right now) productive. It makes it easy to work.

Empowering the Squiggles

Xtrant, it's for a squiggle person, or a straight line person.There are two kinds of folks in this world, the straight lines and the squiggles.

Straight lines are those organized, by the book, solid citizens who are easily detectable by their uncluttered desks and penchant for lists.  And folders in filing cabinets, plus folders on their desktop and carefully cataloged and categorized email clients.  All those to-do type programs and methods are just MADE for them.  But they don’t even need those tools…they’d be organized straight-lines if all they had was a chisel and a stone tablet.

Lists are big with straight line people – and I totally respect that – and there are lots of tools out there that help those folks keep their lists.  But those tools aren’t for me, cause I’m the other kind.

I’m a “squiggle.”

Squiggles are the sideways thinkers, the quick starts, the ADD addled masses who are usually being forced to walk that straight and narrow at work (and forcing themselves to fake it.)  Growing up they felt guilty for not being as organized as those few alien-robot kids who had it all together.   So they read a book about productivity, and give those tools a try, find them useful (for about a week) and then drop them as they regress into their old scattered or makeshift ways. Or else they rebel when “management” forces them to learn a new way of working “for their own good.”

They shouldn’t feel guilty, they are just being what they are – human. Humans in need of a flexible tool that allows the straight lines and the squiggly people to communicate and be productive together.

Think of Xtrant as a BabelFish for squiggles and straight lines. But it’s not only a communication tool, it helps all kinds of folks organize their thoughts and tap into their inspiration.

I come up with a lot of ideas all at once, and I usually forget everything but the LAST idea I came up with. And all of those other ideas in that instant brainstorm can get lost, because my mind is going that fast. Now when I have a burst of inspiration I pull up Xtrant, and write those ideas down in the context of the project I’m thinking of.  It’s about keeping all of your information contextually in one place. It’s useful, and powerful. And it’s powerful because it’s intuitive – natural.

Humans are a distractible bunch – our brains all want to get fed new information, constantly – that’s why these asynchronous, distraction-sharing thought-burst machines like Facebook and Twitter are so popular.

Xtrant incorporates the way people are used to interacting online, for both Straight Lines and Squiggles – but instead of a perpetual party in the cloud, Xtrant is a perpetual meeting in the cloud.

Instead of “social sharing,” we use the same protocols to create an environment of productive sharing – so you can use Xtrant to organize multiple stakeholders around any initiative; like buying a house, or planning a party, or writing a contract, or developing an ad campaign, or sharing and comparing scientific data models over time (we actually have people doing that on Xtrant right now, and it’s already being used by students for study groups, development shops, PR and social media consultants, architects, production companies, lawyers, even a church choir, a writing group and a golf course.)

We aren’t project management and we aren’t an internal social media platform or even just a file sharing system. We’ve designed Xtrant to hit the sweet spot between project management, client communication, social engagement and collaboration – all in a clean interface that’s easy to understand and adopt, whether you’re a squiggle or a straight line.

 

Of Documents and Village People

Only a few days until the first annual Everywhereelse.co The Start-up Conference opens in Memphis. This is the largest start-up conference in the nation and we at Xtrant are ecstatic to be involved. In addition to being named “Official Project Platform” for EverywherElse.co, Xtrant will represent with a booth in the Start-Up Village.  If you’re attending the conference, stop by and see us (and our talented and easy-on-the-eyes spokespeople) and give Xtrant a whirl, even chat with a founder or two.

Sponsoring the Everywhereelse.co start-up conference is one of the many ways we invest in good times.

Being Launch Sponsor at Everywhereelse.co is just one of the many ways we invest in good times.

Though Xtrant is now in “Soft Launch” mode, we’ll be officially launching at the conference on Monday, February 11th. In preparation for this we’ve been hard at work implementing awesome new features. We’ve just launched Xtrant Documents or as we like to say “xDocs” feature – which allows you to create and edit documents within an Xtrant project, making your life a whole lot easier.

Living Doc Sample

You can also make this a “Living Doc” that any contributor on your project can edit.

See y’all there.

Google Wave Withdrawal? Cure it with Xtrant.

When Google Wave was announced back in 2009, I will admit, we were kind of worried. Here we were translating our founding application (The Sposto Interactive Extranet – launched back in 2004) into what is now Xtrant, our goal to give the world the power of productive sharing that helped make our small firm compete on a large stage.

Then suddenly the all powerful Google announced Google Wave – and declared a similar mission – including that of being an “email killer.”  Dammit, that’s what we wanted to be – and actually are.  (In fact, one of our most active customers REQUIRES all of their clients to communicate to them only via Xtrant.  No emails allowed.  They have started over 200 projects in our system since our soft launch in November – and they aren’t the only ones killing their email with Xtrant.)

Back to Google Wave – we honestly didn’t shed many tears at it’s demise – though we hoped WE would be the ones to get it right – strike the right balance between project management, client communication, social engagement and collaboration.

From what we’re hearing from our customers, we have struck that balance – and one comment we’re repeatedly getting is “Wow, Xtrant is like Google Wave, only it’s easy to use and understand.”

Screen Shot 2013-01-24 at 8.03.25 PM

Clear and easy to follow.

google_wave_inbox_add

A little confusing.

How is it similar?  Think of each Xtrant project as the equivalent of a WAVE…add the people you are working with, and keep all of your interactions and communications and  assets you are sharing, etc, in one place.  As that project grows – everything shared and discussed turns into a running log of your progress – a reference point for that topic.  The power of context keeps everyone, literally, on the same page.

So don’t despair – come and surf the Xtrant wave!