Which one of these emails makes more sense to you?
“I’ve set up a wiki with an RSS feed so the team can collaboratively work on the documentation”
“I’ve set up an online white board of sorts so we have one set of notes.”
If you are a technical type you probably don’t even see a difference with either. Being technical, you might of even said they are the same thing.
And that type of thinking is a potentially dangerous thing for a start up. Read on before you flame on.
Enter 37signals, that group of wild -n– crazy kids, with a product called writeboard. This is a product that is pretty good for sharing work, some basic version control, revision tracking, etc, all over the web and its free.
It’s not really a virtual white board because it’s not live and not really something you can share in a live fashion but actually is like a white board because typically people get up, one a time, want to write something and more often then not, say ‘Can I delete this?’
And this insane habit of every phreakin conference room in the world stuffed with white board pens that are dried out! People, throw them out. Don’t put them back on the tray, toss the damn things. Sorry, I’m watching Dennis Miller and it’s 4am. Anyway..
So, it’s pretty neat. In a blog entry about something else, Robert “Checkbook” Scoble adds a note with the following:
“Oh, by the way, 37 Signals' Writeboard is already out… Looks interesting… It looks like a dumbed down Wiki, to tell you the truth.”
It’s a clip, go read the full thing but keep your guns holstered, this has nothing to do with Robert. He has a mostly technical audience, he didn’t slam the product and no animals were harmed in the making of his blog.
That being said, there is a tendency for geeks to compare products via the technology filter which sometimes can get in the way of finding simple solutions to problems.
Writeboard is a good little app that is a good solution for, let’s say, a class project where 5th graders can work on something together while at home, as a class. If a teacher wants to set something up, she might not want to get a geek tech filtered answer of, “set up a Wiki” which is both overkill and overly complex for this particular task example.
Talking about Writeboard vs.Wikis will be a fun technical exercise but can be a dangerous exercise if that talk influences products and target markets in a way that causes the problem being solved to get lost in a sea of flavor of the month buzzwords (currently OPML, Wiki, Web2.0)
Consider, Jotspot Live, another collaborative, web based, white board product. It’s pretty good as well and also attacks the issue of virtual white boards. You could easily say, from a tech/geek perspective, this is a user friendly Wiki machine and launch into this product vs. a full Wiki implementation debate.
But, check out both sites and see how they explain themselves. They don’t use the term Wiki, rather then go after the simple stuff, white board and note taking. These are the things that the average person just get and relate to.
My point is that as you go off and build your great company with your great app or service, remember your audience.
It doesn’t matter if you are using AJAX, Cobol, Wikis, or whatever. What’s the problem you’ve solved and who can use it. Then, service the customer and let the 5th grade teachers rave about it vs. hoping the technical world talks about it. In the end, the users don’t care, they just want stuff to solve problems, give good value and just work.
I’m reminded of this incident to sortta make the point:
While at Reboot7 this year, I happen to be at a table with Cmdr Scoble, Hugh Macleod, Robert’s wife, and a number of other speakers/attendees. Jason Calacanis, CEO of every weblog in the world, (Weblogs Inc.) plops down after a talk.
Jason: “What the heck is the next thing you guys are going to listen to? Where’s the agenda or talk list?”
Somebody: “Well, they have do have a Wiki.”
Jason: [stops, pauses, looks up] “I don’t want a fucking Wiki, I just want a conference agenda.”
Bonus:Memo to Geek Upcoming Moms:
Consider the name Jason for your bouncing baby boy. It appears to be the perfect Web 2.0 name, all the new CEOs have it. Just make sure your kid exercises all those stock options before Bubble 2.0 explodes.