Dropbox Paper, Quip, and the rise of the minimalist word processor

Like a lot of people, I just spent some time checking out the new Dropbox Paper via the browser interface and using the mobile app on my iPad Pro and iPhone. As mobile devices like the Samsung Galaxy Note7, iPad Pro, and Surface Book Pro gain in popularity, the door for a minimalist word processor opens even wider. Here’s how the main screen of the Dropbox Paper beta looks on Google Chrome running on OS X:

My initial reactions to Dropbox Paper remind me of the same reactions I had when Quip launched back in 2012. We had been long overdue for a minimalist word processor at that time. I think the market is still wide open to the possibility today. Here’s a look at the Mac version of the Quip app:

Working as a technical writer has meant I’ve often had to make Microsoft Office and Microsoft Word in particular work for myself. While I applaud some of the advancements that Microsoft has brought to Microsoft Office over the years especially when it comes to SharePoint and OneDrive integration, I still have to say that Microsoft Word has grown too cumbersome for the average users.

By default, as a technical writer, I’ve had to answer my fair share of Microsoft Word questions over the years from my co-workers around me. I even spent time on a team supporting the rollout of a new version of Microsoft Office to a major federal agency. Before that, I was a technical reviewer for some commercially published Microsoft Office books. Sprinkled during that time were some articles I wrote about Microsoft Office based on my frontline experiences.

Some lessons I learned about Microsoft Office:

  • Microsoft Word has grown inordinately complicated for the average user
  • Word templates are a lost cause with some users
  • Font fondling is a productivity drain

I’ve been working from home for a majority of the past four years, so I do a lot of collaboration. While in the past, I used to push using track changes with Microsoft Word for collaborating on document reviews. I see Quip and now Dropbox Paper better suited to the task because both word processors take away the confusion/intimidation of red track changes while keeping track of changes and enabling you to roll back changes when and if necessary. Here’s another taste of the Dropbox Paper UI minimalism:

The advent of Quip and now Dropbox Paper make me wonder about the future of document templates. There’s indeed a case to make if documents stay in an application like Quip or Paper that presentation could become secondary or not even needed at all. To make this happen, Salesforce needs to stick behind Quip, not do what they did with Do.com which shutdown in January 2014 (Do.com came out of the Salesforce acquisition of Manymoon). Quip needs to be of two worlds:

  • Salesforce ecosystem all the way
  • Open to non-Salesforce customers

I write a lot of technical content and think that perhaps the popularity of today’s content management systems are taking a larger part of the presentation layer role than ever before. It’s been more than fifteen years since I’ve had to deal with getting documentation printed and bound and I’m just fine with that.

Mobile apps, minimalism, and word processing

It wasn’t until the iPad Pro did I feel like writing on a tablet was for me personally and professionally. I switch back and forth between Microsoft Word, Ulysses, and the Quip app when I’m writing and editing my own work. To be fair, the Quip app has the benefit of a few more years of iterations versus the Dropbox Paper app which is still in beta, rough edges and all. Here’s a look at the beta of the Dropbox Paper app running on my iPad Pro:

Future of the minimalist word processor

I’ve worked with enough users already who’ve shown me that the future of the word processor is minimalist. It’s just the fact that the rest of the world is just waking up to that fact. Startups, innovative business units, and the gig economy are the folks you can expect to be driving the minimalist word processor.

Hi! My name is Will Kelly. I’m a technical writer and analyst based in the Washington, DC area. I’ve worked with clients like NetApp, Dell, and NeuStar to develop technical, training, and thought leadership content. My articles have been published by TechBeacon, Projects@Work, CNET TechRepublic, Network World, Toolbox.com, ZDNet.com, and others. Follow me on Twitter:@willkelly.

7 tips for creating and managing better Confluence spaces

Being on a job hunt has a tendency to make me reflective so today I was looking for better ways to frame my Atlassian Confluence experience. I’m a technical writer with a Microsoft SharePoint background and came to using Confluence later than some other people. Oddly enough, while I find Confluence easier to use than SharePoint, some of the same adoption issues especially when it comes to creating and managing team spaces.

Here are some of my favorite tips to build a better Confluence space:

1. Take ownership of the Confluence space

I’ve long been a proponent of project teams managing their collaboration platform otherwise it collaboration too often falls somewhere near the bottom of the IT department’s priority list. Even when the project team has full control over a space, there needs to be somebody to answer questions and even learn new features to introduce to the rest of the team.

Candidates for the owner might be the project manager/lead, business analyst, or technical writer. They key to this sort of ownership is not to get in the way of the rest of the team.

2. Take the time to onboard users

Too many users have a collaboration site thrust upon them which rarely works out well especially when the space wasn’t planned out well. It’s consistent theme I’ve found in collaboration sites I’ve seen. Onboarding to a Confluence space includes:

  1. Setup a user account with appropriate privileges
  2. Follow up with user to ensure they can sign into the Confluence space

3. Use templates

While you can’t always expect some team members to use page templates, I commend Atlassian for making their templates easy to use. I’ve gotten users up and running on Confluence templates using just a few clicks.

Confluence ships with a selection of page templates including:

  • How-to Article
  • Meeting Notes
  • Retrospective

You can also create custom templates to use in your space making it possible to translate your existing Microsoft Word templates into Confluence page templates. For example, I’ve migrated software development lifecycle (SDLC) documentation templates from Word to Confluence.

4. Use Confluence Labels

A logical use of Confluence labels is another way to improve the searchability of the pages in your Confluence space. Using labels can help you organize views of your space content using macros.

5. Know your macros

I recommend that you get to know everything about Confluence macros. While you may not be in a position to develop your own macros there is a library of macros that ship with Confluence that can help you build a better space.

6. Create a blog for the space

While the blog that Confluence includes may not rival WordPress, I think the Confluence blog editor is just what teams need for creating blog posts to communicate project and team updates.

7. Watch pages

I always recommend that users click the eye on Confluence pages of interest. Confluence enables you to watch a page, blog, or all of the contents in the space and notifies you when changes and updates appear.

Final thoughts

Atlassian Confluence seems to have a hard time living up to its potential inside some enterprises. While no collaboration platform is perfect if you learn some Confluence features and find the line between organization and free for all collaboration platforms need to hit to be useful then you and your team will build Confluence spaces that are an asset to you team and projects.

What are your favorite Confluence tips?

Hi! My name is Will Kelly. I’m a technical writer and analyst based in the Washington, DC area. I’ve worked with clients like NetApp, Dell, and NeuStar to develop technical, training, and thought leadership content. My articles have been published by TechBeacon, Projects@Work, CNET TechRepublic, Network World, Toolbox.com, ZDNet.com, and others. Follow me on Twitter:@willkelly.

4 ways to support BYOD users with maximum call deflection

Image by Christian Widell via Unsplash.com

Even in 2016, some of the most lingering questions about Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) outside of security are around user support. No self-respecting help desk supervisor is going to want to see their numbers get dinged because of one Android flavor or another.

An old client of mine once taught me about call deflection with help desks and call centers. It’s when you put the training, processes,and efforts in to ensure an end user doesn’t have to call the help desk for technical assistance.

Here are some ways to support BYOD users with maximum call deflection:

1. Run as close to an airtight on-boarding process as possible

One way to support BYOD users with maximum call deflection is to run an airtight device and user on-boarding process for your program. While no on-boarding process is going to survive the first wave of devices, you need to put in the staff, tools, and methods to adjust your on-boarding processes.

Some hidden elements of just such an on-boarding process might include:

  • User documentation
  • Automated versus user driven
  • BYOD policy in place and signed off by the users
  • Easy opt-out for employees who don’t want to participate in BYOD

2. Know your limitations

As BYOD keeps chugging through 2016, organizations should now know their limitations are going to be in a better position to support their users. Such limitations might include:

  • In-house technical expertise especially with mobile devices OSes
  • Budget
  • Security, in particular, endpoint management

While on the surface, BYOD may seem like a bolt-on for existing infrastructure when in fact some real technical and budgetary traps are laying in wait for organizations..

Another limitation to keep in mind is what apps your help desk will support. Companies running on Office 365 can be in good shape here managing their limitations but others running on more legacy technology stacks need to make some decisions on what systems will be open to BYOD access. Reasons limiting access include:

  • Licensing costs
  • Additional security software costs
  • User training

3. Know your user community

I’ve written in the past to keep the HR department out of BYOD because I think the IT department needs unfiltered contact with the end users they support. If a user brings in a smartphone or tablet with calling/data plan they pay for, by all means, they need to be given a seat at the table and treated as a full stakeholder in the BYOD effort.

Knowing your BYOD user community best comes with direct relationships with power users and other respected employees that are out there doing the work, not with some arbitrary HR layer put in between the end users and IT staff responsible for supporting mobile devices.

You also need to find users who are vested in BYOD. Users who want it. I have an uncle who had a successful career with a major telecommunications company back in the pre-smartphone days. When cell phones were first becoming affordable to everybody, he was asked to give his cell phone number to his manager. My uncle said No. Among his reasons was that if the company wanted to contact him, they could give him a company-paid cell phone to carry. Trust me, people like him still exist. They’ll never support your BYOD effort without protestations. You aren’t going to get value out of your limited support dollars with this user.

If you have users like my uncle within your organization, you need to be as much of an advocate for them as you are of employees who are all in with BYOD. Otherwise, those users could be a drag on your support team. Do what you need to avoid even the impression of mandatory BYOD.

4. Create user documentation

Using a smartphone or tablet isn’t second nature to everybody including snake people. Supporting BYOD users with maximum call deflection means an upfront investment in user and process documentation. Typical documentation includes:

  • Device setup guide or job aid walking the user through security settings and what the company may have installed on their personal device
  • Documentation that lays out the user responsibilities for device support
  • App documentation

Bottom line

The bottom line for supporting BYOD users with maximum call deflection is to break down the silos between users and IT. Users with a vested interest in going BYOD will always be easier to support then users being dragged into the initiative.

Hi! My name is Will Kelly. I’m a technical writer and analyst based in the Washington, DC area. I’ve worked with clients like NetApp, Dell, and NeuStar to develop technical, training, and thought leadership content. My articles have been published by TechBeacon, Projects@Work, CNET TechRepublic, Network World, Toolbox.com, ZDNet.com, and others. Follow me on Twitter:@willkelly.