Two challenges in collaboration- Is there a role for data interoperability?

- June 5, 2012

It’s been a week since we graduated from MIT. Since then, we have spent all our waking hours building and validating customer needs. As we started living and working together we felt a dramatic increase in our productivity. The 24/7 collective energy that fuels our shared vision is invigorating; we exchange ideas more frequently, iterate on the product faster, debate and critique our hypotheses more often. This is reflected in the dramatic increase and iterations in our mockups, code, bug reports & documentation, lean canvas iterations, customer interview notes, and customer persona descriptions! But along with this progress came a nagging realization that our productivity was getting constrained by the complexity in managing collaboration within the team. Here are two challenges that we observed:

1. Multiple data stores and use cases:

Between the four of us we have a Dropbox account that contains the files that we share with each other, these tend to be more static files like product mock ups, screenshots etc. Then we have a google docs folder for real time collaboration on documents, mostly text. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to use files in Dropbox for real time file collaboration, so that we don’t have to maintain a separate google document folder? Similarly, we use github for code, but our developer documentation is in dropbox. To maintain version control of the documents, we have resorted to appending our initials to the files names and then merging them back together. Shouldn’t there be a better way to do this?

2. Multiple data applications and content types:

Our team photos are in Facebook but our blog is in Tumblr. Using these photos in our blogs means having to download them out of Facebook first before uploading them into Tumblr. Similarly, a lot of our customer contacts with whom we would like to share information are in our developer registration database, while a lot of our prospective customers are following us on Twitter. Shouldn’t there be a quick and easy way to unify our outreach to these audience? On a related note our analytics is in mixpanel and google analytics. Each of these are owned and managed by a different member on our team. When analyzing the results, we often find ourselves exporting multiple Excel files and merging them into one spreadsheet or using the copy paste function quite liberally! Shouldnt there be a easier way to do this?

Anyone have any collaboration best practices of nightmares to share?

As we write this post, we realized that we are heavy users of SaaS application, and online data stores. One solution could lie in enabling interoperability between the multiple data stores and the applications. Imagine a world where there is no uploading, downloading, exporting and importing. Data just seamlessly flows between your various online data sources.

In your opinion, what does this interoperability look like?