What I really said at Office 2.0

I just did an interview with Dan Farber at the Office 2.0 Conference, and surprised myself with what came out.

I just did an interview with Dan Farber at the Office 2.0 Conference, and surprised myself with what came out.  What is Office 2.0?  It's not shared spreadsheets; it's spreadsheets for processes.

To be honest, I haven't been focusing much on Office 2.0... sounded pretty corporate and boring.  So I hustled to find out about this phenomenon, and it mostly seemed like Salesforce.com 2.0--adding personal-productivity apps to the range of software offered online. But I don't really see that changing the world. And, for what it's worth, I have been spending too much time lately in parts of the world where the notion of working online persistently is a joke.

I think Office 2.0 is something entirely different. Yes, it's online, and it's about the way the platform allows the sharing of information, but the trick is managing the processes, not managing the content.

That is, we need tools that will help us keep track of the workflow. For example, I send a blog post out to three people to make sure I quoted them correctly. Now I want a way automatically to ping the ones who haven't responded. That's a minor problem. But I have 20 or 30 of them a way....so I want a process spreadsheet, a tool that lets me set up little processes, copy and modify and re-use them. I want to be able to share them with other people. And, perhaps my company wants a way to create them and distribute them.

But in general, as we think about Office 2.0, we need to avoid the trap of thinking that work rules are centralized and hierarchical.  Rules can be peer-to-peer too--if we have tools to create and share them in a bottom-up way.

What's missing is tools that can add this awareness and functionality to our existing tools and data, not a seamless, closed environment. We need to be able to track our e-mails and bring outsiders into the stream. The ideal tool doesn't simply let you synch calendars and share work; it tracks commitments, requests, fulfillment of requests--in a word, work transactions.

The closest thing to all this is the suite of "activity management" tools from IBM (nee Lotus), which are--surprise!--becoming increasingly open. But the really interesting development is the availability of this kind of functionality at retail... just as Google et al. made the Web-as-library universally available (and affordable).

Putting these kinds of capabilities online does not just let users collaborate. In the long run, it will be another important step towards what the Internet does in so many places--empower the little guy, and in this case, empower lots of little guys working on their own or for little-guy companies to collaborate effectively with other little guys.

Itensil has a workflow tool that I saw just glimpse of. It's heading in the right direction, but it doesn't yet integrate well enough with users' existing software.  Other candidates include Zoho, which includes some project-management tools in an extensive suite, and Near-Time, which has roles and permissions but not (as far as I can tell) full-fledged activity transactions.

If there's something out there that I am missing, please let me know...and let me know if I can share!