Startups rely on constant, open sharing of information across all functions in order to have a shot at becoming a company. However, the most common tool for communications - Email, like cubicles in office layouts, encourages silos of information rather than easy, frictionless, and continual sharing.
I believe collaboration only happens when it happens all the time. It is not an activity that can be scheduled in meetings or forced via specific/distinct applications foisted on employees. I think it needs to be a central part of a primary nervous system used in a startup.
While multiple attempts have been made to ‘fix email’ (ShortMail, MinBox,…), I think a bolder new approach may be required – no email. Instead, replace email with a simpler communication system that enables open participation across all employees in a startup.
The idea is quite simple – all employees ‘publish’ everything they do, and others ‘subscribe’ to whoever they need to subscribe to – in order to do their work. I call it NAIL, a portmanteau of NoEmail.
There are three canonical streams of communications that need to flow in such a system:
Work/Activity: Everything an employee does is published here. Code/dev/test/get/push/A-B/Customer-prezo/Company Ops updates/HR/Admin
Collaborate: Anything that requires two or more people to work together. Includes click-to-video, click-to-talk
Educate: Everyone’s capture of what you learnt + what you want others to learn. resources, configurations, external-resources, blogs, faqs,…
The information flowing in this communications system can be presented in a simple way using a (Dave Winer’s) reverse chronological streams of the three categories. In the interest of fast browsing, snippets can be limited to 2 lines of text+links or even 140 chrs in a nod to the popularly accepted tweet limit.
Underlying these three flows are a robust message bus, calendar system, and other Voice/Video-over-IP support. (Think UDP-fast).
A minimum feature set for such a system is:
- Allow anyone to subscribe to anyone else.
- Accounts for people, groups, and systems (let the db NAIL its pain)
- @reply, @group-reply, @DM, @Group-DM
- Archive everything. Make it all searchable.
- Click-to-multiparty Video Call, Single click-to-multiparty Voice call built in.
- Recommendations section of suggested people + content to follow for new employees and all users. Min-list by function, then suggest by interests, activities.
- Must be Mobile from day-1.
- Encourage Photos/other-media capture (especially in collaborate stream)
I have no idea if something like this scales well to large organizations or large groups but for small (<10?) work groups, I think this just might work better than email. Of course, in true startup spirit, if you can hack together NAIL on top of Twitter, even better…