Towards a Shared Digital Workspace: More Questions Than Answers

"It's an older code, sir, but it checks out."

Recently I have been tracking ways that I can become more efficient and mindful in my various daily tasks whether it’s in my home life or at work.

I’m also very interested in helping Monkeytree and our clients work and collaborate together easily and more directly.

One can be forgiven for thinking that this would be a fairly routine task in our day and age.

Surely if Richard Branson can take tourists into space then someone has developed an online platform that makes sharing workspaces easy, intuitive, and inexpensive.

That makes sense doesn’t it? Shouldn’t it?

To say that I have been frustrated in my attempts to find a solution to the problem of locating and using a digital workspace that can be shared across platforms and allows for document tracking and storage would be an understatement.

But maybe I’m asking too much. I usually am.

Like that time with the basket of popcorn shrimp at Chuck E Cheese.

The Almost Solutions:

Internet-based solutions providers are like hawkers at the carnival. They’re difficult to ignore and are often peddling gadgetry with no observable long-term purpose.

Here’s some examples of what I’m calling The Almost Solutions. These are products that were either recommended to me by others or things that I found in my research.

In each case, these solutions had some good things going for them but ultimately lacked some fundamental elements.

I’m interested to know if other people have the same or different experiences with these solutions.

Basecamp:

Basecamp!

“Have you tried Basecamp?”

This is the first thing that everyone says when you tell them that you need a digital workspace. Everyone!

And that should be enough to tell you that the field for shared digital workspaces is not being occupied by the Visionary Unit of Internet Engineers.

They’re busy working on the next Angry Birds app.

Basecamp is ok, tho. I shouldn’t be too hard on it. I know that a lot of people use it for their businesses and one-off projects.

For me, it seems non-intuitive, clunky, and it’s lack on integration with Google or anything else makes it extraneous to my workflow.

As my colleague Andrea put it once, “Nobody will end up using it because it’s just another thing that everyone has to remember to sign in to.”

She was right.

BuddyPress:

BuddyPress

The good thing about Leaps of Faith is that when you take them you’re unlikely to break anything vital.

As an advocate for WordPress and a fan of building sites using WooThemes templates like Canvas, I embraced the idea that I could build a private social network that operated behind the public face of Monkeytree Creative dot com.

It was paradise in my mind. A handmade digital workspace accessible to all the Monkeys 24/7 that piggybacked off our main site.

What could possibly go wrong?

Well, a lot.

Firstly, I didn’t have the technical chops to do it properly. Building, maintaining the site would have consumed a lot of time, and that’s before training my colleagues, to use it.

If it worked.

There was the matter that I could not find much documentation from other organizations like Monkeytree who had used it successfully.

Add to that articles like this one that expressed serious concerns about the present and future of BuddyPress from a technical point of view and I became skeptical enough to walk away from it.

Hyper Office:

Hyper Office

Good old Google. We’re always just a few keystrokes away from all of the answers to all of our important questions.

And so I turned to the search engines for help. They provided links to many collaborative solutions.

The best of them all was something called Hyper Office.

It had all of the bells and whistles, including early morning phone calls from sales representatives in Maryland.

It had wikis and forums and mobile synching. It could even synch to Outlook!

And yet, it wasn’t enough. Where was the synching across platforms and the Google/cloud integration? It seemed designed to create simple workspaces for companies usuing native Microsoft products and workflows and not creative collaborative businesses.

I could be wrong, tho. I didn’t stick around past the free thirty day trial to find out.

And that’s without even talking about their pricing. Which, for our company, is prohibitive.

The List Making Device and True Collaboration:

I was talking to a designer friend of mine the other day on the phone about my predicament.

I said to her, “I need some sort of list making device.”

And she replied, “I think it’s called a pen, Sean.” And she laughed.

Of course she was right. It’s much easier than it sometimes seems to solve these problems by opening our eyes to the simple things around us.

The Immortal Daryl Zero

As the immortal Daryl Zero once said;

“Now, a few words on looking for things. When you go looking for something specific, your chances of finding it are very bad. Because of all the things in the world, you’re only looking for one of them. When you go looking for anything at all, your chances of finding it are very good. Because of all the things in the world, you’re sure to find some of them.”

So, I shouldn’t have been surprised when I received the best ideas for solving my problem by just looking around.

*

Almost immediately after this conversation with my friend about a listing making device I came across clues and recommendations for pieces that I suspect will end up leading to the solution that I am looking for.

The truth of the matter tho is that the solution will be a collaboration of separate tools all together. And the solution will be evolving all the time as new products are developed and new relationships are formed with people who do things a little bit differently.

For instance, the clearest way forward to help Monkeytree develop a sharing platform is to figure one out for myself and in the past few days friends have recommended some very interesting online tools to help me.

Darren Barefoot of Capulet Communications uses something called Remember the Milk in his own life and work.

Other friends of mine, jewelry designer Ashley Winnington-Ball, and librarian Heidi Schiller, recommended Evernote and Todoist respectively.

Each of these recos seems like an excellent suggestion and they’re built not only to help people organize their time and ideas, but also have options to share and collaborate with others.

Unlike some of the other options described above these tools don’t try to be everything to everyone.

They just keep it simple by helping you to figure out how best to collaborate with your colleagues, family, clients, etc…

That seems sensible to me.

I realized that there’s no package that can answer all of my needs nor the unique needs of my colleagues and clients.

And that’s why we call it the web. Because it’s the connections that matter. Each person arriving at an interaction with others using the tools that work best for them and adapting along the way.

We can make this work by staying open to what works best for us and adapting the tools that we choose as we learn from others and experiment along the way.

 

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About Sean Cranbury

Sean Cranbury is a Director at Monkeytree Creative specializing in social media communication and cat jokes. Sean is an award-winning events programmer for his W2 Real Vancouver Writer's Series. He hosts a radio show called Books on the Radio on CJSF 90.1 FM and volunteers for the W2 Community Media Arts Society in Vancouver's downtown east side.