Monday, September 3, 2007
Collaborate Without Borders
September 2, 2007
A Tool to Organize Our Many Organizers
By MICHAEL FITZGERALD
WHEN he started his software company, Faizan Buzdar and three friends worked from a spare bedroom in the home of another friend. Their view was inspiring: the lovely house of an entrepreneur who had made a mint from his own start-up. We would look at it and say we would buy it when we succeeded, Mr. Buzdar said last week.
He may get the chance. His start-up, the Scrybe Corporation (www.iscrybe.com), which developed a personal information manager, recently said it had received an undisclosed amount of venture funding from Adobe Systems and L.M.K.R., an information technology services company based in Dubai.
Scrybe might have seemed a long shot to get even this far. Mr. Buzdar, 31, is based in Pakistan’s capital city, Islamabad, hardly known as a haven for software entrepreneurs. And Scrybe is trying to enter a well-established market dominated by Microsoft Outlook in the business world and by Google, Yahoo and a host of smaller companies on the Web. But Mr. Buzdar’s product, which is also called Scrybe and made its debut in a seven-minute YouTube video in October 2006, has drawn sustained interest. The reasons suggest he has figured out something fundamental about how we want access to schedules and related information.
/// At any point of time, your competition can originate from any point of the globe
Scrybe’s tools include a clever interface that features zooming calendar boxes that become bigger when scrolled over, the ability to print in multiple formats, including wallet- and pocket-friendly versions, and a novel notepad that accepts text and images from the Web as well as the usual typed-in notes. It also works offline, something that Outlook and other existing programs cannot do.
One user, David Gerboni, who works for a community bank in New York, said he had adopted Scrybe because of its interface and because it did a better job of pulling together data than any other calendar he has used, including Outlook.
All of this has made Scrybe, which remains in beta testing, the most anticipated software at the Museum of Modern Betas, a Web site that tracks emerging Web 2.0 projects. More than 300,000 people have watched the YouTube video. Given that the company had a public relations budget of zero dollars, Mr. Buzdar had told his co-founders (three friends he knew from the Pakistani outsourcing industry), that they might attract 10,000 users in six months. Instead, he said, we had about 100,000 users in a few weeks.
Of course, Scrybe is not the only new company trying to build a better way to organize personal information. Last week, the Open Source Applications Foundation released a much-delayed preview version of a product called Chandler. Another such tool that is planned to emerge this month is IWantSandy, which aims to handle calendar functions via e-mail.
While calendar sharing may sound mundane, the problem vexes people like David Weinberger, a research fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School and author of Everything Is Miscellaneous, a book that looks at how things should be organized — or not — in the online age. I go through contortions like everybody else to sync up my BlackBerry with my Google calendar, he said.
Mr. Weinberger said that the calendar issue symbolized a much bigger problem with information: It is atomized into various databases and hard to pull together.
What we need is the ability to associate the people and the times and the places of our lives with the broad messy context of our lives, he said. He added that the new tools are an early but important step toward giving people and companies a better way to manage their increasingly complicated existence.
A McKinsey & Company study of United States economic activity in 2005 said that 40 percent of labor activity, the biggest chunk, came not from making things or from traditional transactions but from what McKinsey called the interaction economy, the part in which people collaborate, solve problems and design products and such. One might also call it the meeting economy. It is the least commoditized part of the economy, and the hardest to measure and manage — and it involves the highest-priced labor.
/// *** With the Compass AE methodology, a project team uses the Tangible Vision to define the prioritization of meeting types. By understanding the grand goal and the specific objectives, the number of efficient meetings increase and the number of unnecessary meetings decrease.
The nature of work has changed, and so has the technology that matters to businesses, said James M. Manyika, a senior partner at McKinsey. Personal productivity applications like Scrybe matter more than big companywide applications like enterprise resource planning systems. You’re not trying to automate the task a human does; you’re trying to complement what the human is doing, he said.
MR. BUZDAR acknowledged that Scrybe might never solve the problems of large companies. Indeed, John Leckrone, director of venture development at Adobe, said he expected Scrybe to expand the market for organizing software rather than displace existing products. Scrybe’s initial version is basically a personal organizer. But Mr. Buzdar said that he plans to link the tool more closely with Outlook in the near future, and that a version for small and medium-size businesses was in the works.
For its part, Microsoft is certain to continue to adapt its products for the increasingly collaborative world of Web business, as is I.B.M., the other large provider of corporate calendar and information sharing tools.
Paul Saffo, a technology forecaster in Silicon Valley, says Scrybe is among a wave of companies that are forcing businesses to rethink what they do with information. Doing business increasingly means pulling together people across different time zones and companies. E-mail and phones aren’t efficient ways to organize these things, so there is pressure to create publicly viewable calendars.
Mr. Saffo said the big difference between these new personal information managers and those of the past is that these new things share.
He said the situation reminded him of the way personal computers broke down corporate information bureaucracies and gave all workers greater access to data. Companies are being forced to deal with such sweeping change again, and it will create confusion and consternation, but ultimately more effective communication.
///* A Compass project team that builds, connect and lead with their Tangible Vision process, can collaborate anywhere regardless of the the distance, the technology and the project culture.
Michael Fitzgerald is a Boston-area writer on business, technology and culture. E-mail: email@example.com.
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