Blimp needs more bandwidth

By Giovanni Collazo 22 Nov 2013

Chat

This is the sixth post on our Open Design Project series. You should subscribe to the project’s newsletter to get notified when a new post is published. Let’s get right into it.

TL;DR

Instant messaging is part of our day to day work communications. The problem is that with current solutions most of those messages are lost. If we had an instant messaging system that integrates transparently with a team collaboration and task tracking system we could transform instant messages into actionable and trackable things, in other words tasks. Blimp 2 will do just that. We’ll have a chat room system that will integrate deeply into all other aspects of our team collaboration and task tracking capabilities.

High Bandwidth

You could categorize team communication software into three groups based on their bandwidth. When I say bandwidth I’m referring to the amount of information that can be transmitted in a limited amount of time.

Audio and video chat are high bandwidth. Nothing will ever replace face to face in person meetings. I believe it’s almost impossible to replace the kinds of interactions that happen when two people are on the same room talking to each other. There are a lot of dynamics that just don’t happen when we use other channels. But with the technologies we have now like Skype and Google Hangouts we can get pretty close. You just go into a Hangout with your team and in a few minutes you can discuss very complex ideas that can take for ever to transmit via textual channels.

Medium Bandwidth

Instant messaging, chat and SMS are medium bandwidth. You send a textual message that other parties can instantly read and reply to. This kind of communication produces dialogs instead of one way messages. Dialogs are a very efficient way of communication complex ideas, since you can ask and answer instantly. I’ll say more about this in a second.

Low bandwidth

Team collaboration apps like Blimp are low bandwidth. You create a task, explain what it means and at a later point someone finds it, reads what you wrote and maybe asks a question to clarify any doubts. This back and forward process is slow but it has a lot of other benefits. You can coordinate with teams that are working on different timezones. You can work on your own time and when other team members are available they can go into the app and see what happened.

The main feature of this kind of communications channel is that things have some permanence and even a little formality. When something is recorded into a system like Blimp, it tends to stay with us for a long time and it serves as a reference for later. Recording tasks makes project progress and collaboration easy to think about and measure. This kind of system also works as a “single source of truth” about work. If is not recorded in the form of a task, we don’t have to work on it.

Our medium-bandwidth friend

We use HipChat a lot. In fact we spend most of our time on a chat room called “The Office” where we discuss and coordinate everything. That’s where we say good morning and where we get notifications when a new feature is deployed to our users. In fact we spend so much time on the chat that most of our ideas and discussions about what to work on start there. One of the cool things about having this direct communication channel is that when you need to focus, you can just turn it off for a few hours, work on what you have to do and then come back when you are ready.

One of the issues we have with our current setup is that even though our chat system records every message and we can search through them, instant messages are very ephemeral. If you are away from a chat room for a long time you never go back to read the logs. Messages in this kind of system just go away and in a work environment where important things are discussed in the chat you would want to persist the important parts of your chat conversations.

The chat system that we want

It would be great if we were on the chat room discussing a specific task and that task got notified of the conversation we had. Now the next time you look at the task it will tell you that there was a conversation about it at some point in the past. That way you could go see what was said in relation to the task. Your ephemeral chat conversation would be preserved and permanently linked to your tasks.

It would be great if we are brainstorming on an idea on the chat room and when a messages with a good idea pops up, you could just transform that message or some part of that conversation into something actionable, like a task.

That would be really awesome and that’s what we are going to build

Blimp 2 will have a chat room system built into it. While chatting with your co-workers you’ll be able to mention a task (just like you do on Twitter or Facebook) and that task will be notified of that mention. The next time you look at the task’s details you’ll see a link to the moment in time when the conversation took place. Clicking that link will take you to the chat room in which that happened and in the moment in time when it happened. From there you can just replay the conversation and you are done.

Teams will be able to create as many rooms as they need or do one-on-one chats. You can have a general room (The Office) for everything and a Design room just for that team. When someone says something that needs to be done or tracked, you can just convert that message into a real task. If you have a discussion about a task you can attach that conversation to it. All messages will be saved and searchable so you can reference things at a later time.

We’ve been playing with this idea since we started working with Blimp. You’ll have your day to day conversations on the chat and when something important is said you can easily transform that into a task which is a little more formal and a lot easier to keep track of.

Let us know what you think. Are you using IM, SMS or chat with your team? What tools are you using? Have you ever lost an important work IM or chat conversation?

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Blimp 2 Open Design Project: Next steps