Mario Sundar's Speakeasy

Twitter's 1st evangelism comms guy, Linkedin's 2nd PR guy. These are my thoughts on tech, public relations, and life.

Microsoft’s Office Space under Attack!

When was the last time you felt elated about using Microsoft Word, or Microsoft Outlook, or any of the products in the Microsoft Office Space? Never.

Cue classic Office Space printer demolition scene

All of these products were built with an utter disregard to the user experience, much like printers, much like phones in the pre-iPhone era. All of these products have widespread usage within the enterprise but much like the DMV, don’t seem to give a crap about their users’ experience. But that was before the iPhone. The iPhone taught us was that if we build an exceptional product for users, the enterprise is within reach. Focus on the user and the rest will follow.

Into this new dynamic, we find two new extremely buzzy mobile entrants: Slack and Quip.

  • Both Slack and Quip are meant to operate in a Post-PC world.
  • Both Slack and Quip are mobile-first, making their usage on iPhones and iPads as efficient as using them on the desktop.
  • Both Slack and Quip will eventually take on Microsoft Office if they execute well – Quip, by recreating the killer apps (Word and now spreadsheet) as well as the newsfeed (collaboration) while Slack started with messaging and is now moving to own killer apps like document editing and in the future “calendars and task management.”

Jessica Lessin at The Information, seems to think that Slack and messaging apps’ hype is overrated. But I think she’s missing the bigger picture that Slack and Quip are both not just about messaging.

Be leery of products that tout their better messaging experiences. As Arjun Sethi, co-founder of MessageMe who just joined Yahoo told me: “Messaging is secondary. The primary use case cannot be messaging.”

Agreed. But I think in both cases, Slack and Quip, it’d be inaccurate to think their ambitions are relegated to messaging. Office made Bill Gates the richest man on the planet because of the platform they created.

A platform whose crown jewels thus far remain:

  • Killer apps
    • Documents and spreadsheets (Word and Excel)
    • Presentation (Powerpoint)
  • the dots that connect them
    • Email / collaboration (Outlook and OneNote)

That is all there is to this cash cow, the killer apps and the dots that connect them. For Facebook it’s photos and the feed; for LinkedIn, it’s jobs and their enterprise product; and for Apple it’s the Camera and the Phone.

Interesting to see that all of Microsoft’s office products hinged on the ability for people within an organization to collaborate and I believe this fundamental secret sauce is under attack with products like Quip, Slack and Evernote.

Both Slack and Quip, aim to recreate that dynamic from the ground up in a mobile future that Microsoft frankly does not own nor lead anymore. Quip has created the post-PC version of killer apps that drives work. I wouldn’t be surprised if they built the rest of the killer apps mentioned above (they just launched spreadsheets as a premium feature), should they find a demand for it. And once they create the suite, the superior product experience will drive large teams and enterprises to ask for “Quip Inside” to their IT teams, the same way we bugged our IT teams about switching us from Blackberries to iPhones. And we saw how that played out.

What do you think is Slack and Quip’s potential? Are they overhyped?

Postscript: There are others who are also jostling within this space, like Asana (which aims at collaboration from to-dos) and Evernote (which aims at it from note taking), and as someone who has tried the product I find Quip extremely addictive for an Enterprise product and I’ve heard the same about Slack from startups and friends who have been using them. Box and Dropbox are two other pieces to this puzzle from a server side, with Box playing the LinkedIn to Dropbox’s Facebook.

But make no mistake, what we are seeing right now is the Unbundling of Microsoft.

Filed under: New Products, Quip, Slack

The Secret about Secrets

Dreams are a window to the human soul. So are secrets.


There really is no place to be truly honest on the web today. There’s no place to scream like no one’s watching. Sadly, this is especially true on issues that matter to you, on issues that make you, or issues that break you.

Yesterday’s news that Facebook is dabbling in the creation of an “anonymous” app has Om Malik seeing red. Facebook has owned the market for your identity on the web and now seems to also gravitate towards the opposite end of the spectrum, ostensibly to alter perception on their approach to privacy?

Facebook’s DNA is about mapping people, their relationships and booming their online identity. In fact, online identity is their most killer feature. It is what we all use to log into various websites to leave comments, or sign-in to new apps and services. It is how many Pinterest. Facebook identity is Facebook. So that is why it is hard for me to take any attempts at anonymity seriously!

Is this a PR move? Let’s give Facebook the benefit of doubt in that all of their successes (as driven by advertising) is also driven by an acute sense of how social works. That and given the lengthy product roadmaps that dictate the creation of products, I think anonymity on the web is something Facebook is giving a lot of consideration and this just might be their initial foray into that space. There might be more than meets the eye and I bet there’s a simple answer to all these hyperactive rumors. Here’s where my heads at in this space.

1. Contextual anonymity is empowering, transformational

Relationships matter. Always have, always will. Just ask Facebook and LinkedIn.

But as psychologists will tell you even within the concentric circles of our life (partner, family, work, neighbors, industry, etc.) we employ varying degrees of straight talk (think “fake it till you make it” resumes) for varying reasons. What if we added anonymity to these different concentric circles?

Google + tried creating these circles (minus the anonymity) to provide different slices of news feeds for different communities within your network.

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 1.20.04 PM

Facebook did the same when it allowed you to share different content to different slices of your life.

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 1.21.43 PM

And Branch tried the same mix of generating conversations within communities (experts, journalists, etc.)

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 1.23.21 PM

Given that Facebook acqui-hired the team at Branch and Josh Miller from Branch currently leads Project Anonymous, it’s not a stretch to imagine the much rumored product being an extension of the DNA that powered Facebook Groups and Branch.

And since Facebook owns the social graph, it’ll be very easy for them to anonymize conversations within groups already created. For example: I’ve a group for my closest friends (10 people), people I worked with while at LinkedIn (30 people), etc. There are so many ways to slice and dice sub-communities within your Facebook graph and just toggle pseudo / anonymity into the mix.

But what’s the benefit of anonymity, you ask…

2. Corporate Dens: When Communities *talk *

Enter Secret.

I became a recent convert to Secret after stumbling upon the concept of “contextual anonymity;” see a Secret experiment called “Dens” which allows for honest feedback within the filter of anonymity in your workplace. Dens seems like a powerful device to enable people at companies to speak up, be playful, and share their daily thoughts that others can follow within the community / company. Even the 360 degree feedback finds in confidentiality, its Achilles Heel:

People who have never gone through the 360 process before are usually initially worried about how the data will be used and if it will remain confidential. You need to ensure you assure them up-front that it is a confidential process and won’t come back to haunt them at performance review time.

The benefits for safe, anonymous comments in similar settings should be pretty obvious to Facebook. Granted there’s room for slander but I’m sure product driven updates will mitigate just that.

3. When Honesty Matters

Take Quora, a content network that allows anonymity for a slew of reasons. Here are a few reasons why this works:

Besides the reason you included, sharing life experience, other reasons include, but are not limited to:

• political/religious views where those views might be persecuted by a strong majority: Falun Dafa, pro-democracy in Hong Kong, Muslims in India, Christians in Iraq, etc…
• Experiences with drugs, and mental illness, or any other taboo subject
• Simply wanting to hide your content from being explicitly pushed out to people who follow you
• Asking questions that you are not able to fully, or clearly enunciate, which feel like they might appear trolly, but aren’t

As I’ve become more active on Secret, I find many heartwarming snippets of humanity show up. And this is just the tip of the iceberg since the network hasn’t hit critical mass yet. But the opportunity to leverage anonymity for its goodness vs. the acts we’re used to seeing on the web, is an untapped market.

Goodness.

Kindness.

Controversy.

And more

Can we scale this kind of a network is all that’s left to be seen. And if Facebook is going to bring a billion people into the world of anonymity, it could tip the scales.

Time will tell.

Filed under: Branch, Facebook, New Products, Secret

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