How We Got Here and Where We’re Going
TLDR: Creative and knowledge work is transformed again by shifts in technology, but applications don’t keep up yet. Spacedeck is our contribution to a more social and connected way of working digitally. We want to work with the community and request your feedback. Also, looking for iOS, Android and API beta testers.
The Desktop Environment
Xerox Star ViewPoint. Source: DigiBarn computer museum
The desktop environment transformed the computer into a machine that augmented creativity. It became the central starting place for anyone who wanted to get some work done that involved more than crunching numbers on a fast calculator. Apple and later NeXT brought the ideas of the Xerox Star into the mainstream and on everyone’s desk. The desktop metaphor was immensely popular. It was copied and iterated upon by countless companies like Microsoft, Commodore, Atari, IBM, Sun and the Open Source movement. It made Linus Torvalds very angry when the GNOME 3 team wanted to take the Desktop away from him.
People started to replace some of the tedious physical labor that they did before with desktop applications. Vendors like Quark, Adobe or Autodesk came along and wrote large, expensive suites of work environments that demonstrated that it was really a much better idea to do typesetting on a computer instead of physically stacking blocks of movable type for every line of text you wanted to print in a newspaper. Similar shifts happened to graphics design, photo manipulation, film editing, music creation or architecture.
The Networked Office of the 90s
Windows for Workgroups. Source: Wikipedia
So everyone churned away happily in their offices, using desktop computers connected by network equipment and maybe an office file server or two that enabled to have something called a shared disk drive.
The shared drive and the shared printer made it possible (in theory) for one person to see the changes that a coworker made to a document and continue from there without physically walking up to them and getting a new copy on a floppy disk. People in the company could create hierarchical structures of folders on the shared network drive that would serve as a kind of representation of how they saw the structure of what the company was doing. They sent each other feedback or new tasks using E-Mail and put their appointments and deadlines in an Outlook calendar.
The Social Web
Google staff starting to set up for the U.S. President’s first Google+ Hangout. Source: Wikipedia
Then, a few things happened really fast. The web became big. Thanks to rivalry and collaboration between Google, Microsoft, Mozilla and Apple, browsers became incredibly capable pieces of technology. Today, Chrome and Firefox are literally miniature graphical operating systems (this has manifested recently in Chrome OS and Firefox OS) that are highly optimized to exchange data with the web and render it quickly.
Highly entangled with the success of the web was the rise of social networks (in the end, mostly Facebook, Twitter and Google+, but there are a myriad niche and specialized networks out there) in the late 2000s. Digital social networks are incredibly important because they demonstrate, again, the necessity and importance of personal relations between people beyond their offline lives. They also fundamentally changed the perception of the world into that of a larger communication and opportunity space than it was before, something that users of early IRC chat rooms and Email already knew.
The third thing that happened is what some people (especially Apple) called the Post-PC revolution. It’s something that someone at Microsoft misunderstood a little with Windows 8 when they messed with everyone’s Desktop experience because they thought: “Desktop = PC and PCs are dead”. What Post-PC really means is that there was never really a lot of need for personal computation because most people simply care about other things than computation in their daily lives. What the PC has instead evolved into is a number of connected devices that let people communicate and express themselves, consume and share media and explore their surroundings independently of the physical situation they are in.
Still, depending on what you want to do, you might need a keyboard, maybe a mouse or trackpad, a pen or a hierarchical file management system. You just don’t necessarily need a PC anymore. And you don’t necessarily need a traditional office, a networked drive or a boxed suite of business applications anymore. The nature of working with information changes as does technology.
New Tools for a New Environment
Launchlabs staff working digitally in a physical space.
Just like in the decades before, the dramatic technological and social changes that occurred in the last few years will again impact the ways in which we get our work done. We want our work to be seamlessly integrated with the web. We don’t want to make technical distinctions between photos, vector graphics or a video on Youtube just because the software was written in a pre-web era or built around the idea of having to print something.
Through the web, we have discovered that there are talented people and opportunities all over the planet, and we might want to work with them. So our digital tools should be social: we want to invite others to take a look or contribute an idea directly inside our documents. Google Docs (now Drive) has pioneered this for traditional text documents and spreadsheets with great success.
But we also want to explore new forms of highly visual documents, representing information in a way that is more fitting to the dynamic nature of the web and our work. When we’re on the go and something comes to our mind, we want to capture this thought or sight on our mobile device and be sure that it’s there in our digital work environment later, automatically, without effort.
A brainstorming session in Spacedeck
Spacedeck is our contribution to the coming age of seamlessly connected work environments, and in the 2 years that we spent developing it, we think that we have come a long way. But we need to do a lot more, and want to develop it more closely together with you. We want to discuss what works, what can be done and what should be avoided in the open. So please feel free to respond in your own blogs, in our Tumblr comments, on Twitter, or on our Facebook page. Talk to us and about us. Or meet us in Berlin for a beer.
Oh, and two more things:
- Who wants to beta-test our iOS and Android Applications?
- Who wants to beta-test a REST API integration?