Why WhatsApp is the new Excel

No, this is not to make fun of Excel or WhatsApp. Excel is this piece of software people either love or hate. What’s important is that Excel is software that has given people in companies a lot of freedom and possibilities to create little pieces of custom software.

For my work as product designer I visit all types of companies and I have interviewed a lot of employees in different fields and with different backgrounds.

The spreadsheet on the shared server
One thing you can find in almost every company is that some part of the business is build on Excel. There’s always this spreadsheet on a shared server that is used for schedules, orders, forms, or anything else quite critical.

The reason for this is simple. Excel is powerful and easy to use. I gives every employee the power to create little pieces of software and thus create or support a business proces.

The last year we’ve seen WhatsApp groups being used in almost every major company as well. Employees setup a small social network where they share private and work related information.

Easy private social networks
We’ve seen it everywhere from people working in hospitals, department stores to higher management in office workspaces. WhatsApp is this easy to use tool to create private social networks. No regulation, no control from the IT-department, no hassle.

Is this good or bad?
It’s bad if you want to control business process, it’s good if you trust your employees, they just want to get things done and for now WhatsApp is doing what Excel has done for years

If you didn’t read it yet, Facebook bought WhatsApp for 19 billion dollar.

Design Interface design

Design is not a democracy

This morning I read Small Change by Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker. Besides his remarks about the impact of social networks there is another interesting passage in his article.

There are many things, though, that networks don’t do well. Car companies sensibly use a network to organize their hundreds of suppliers, but not to design their cars. No one believes that the articulation of a coherent design philosophy is best handled by a sprawling, leaderless organizational system. Because networks don’t have a centralized leadership structure and clear lines of authority, they have real difficulty reaching consensus and setting goals. They can’t think strategically; they are chronically prone to conflict and error. How do you make difficult choices about tactics or strategy or philosophical direction when everyone has an equal say?

Image from Sketching User Experiences by Bill BuxtonFor a while this topic has been fascinating me. Why design needs direction, someone with a vision or clear ideas? Why do most open source projects fail to get this right? And why do you often need a designer or someone who thinks like one for innovation?

Building a house from a design could very well work like an open source project. Designing a house as an open source project would probably be a disaster, it would end up over complete and hard to stand out. Networks are good in converging, designers are good in diverging.

The networked and peer-culture that founded Google is likely why they are incredibly successful in finding things (“to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful“) This might also explain why they fail in building social networks (Orkut, Jaiku, Wave, Buzz).

This is what makes Facebook and Twitter succeed, those are fare more hierarchical organizations where there is a clear vision set by one or a small group of people.

Design is what makes you stand out. Good design is about making choices. Even in a networked culture.

The image in this post is a picture I took from the book Sketching User Experiences by Bill Buxton.

The Social Web

About how peers challenge you and engaging the other 99%

Old Man
This beautiful picture of an Old Man is made by *hiro008 [+]

Peers are important for development. It’s their reflection that makes us act, (re-)think and it are the peers around us that make us move forward faster.

This blog is a peer. I write thoughts and ideas. By reading comments, e-mail, incoming links and sometimes talking to people about certain posts I look at it differently and it changes or develops my view. It helps me go further.

The peer for my blog (and my thoughts) is the reach it has. Not so much in the number, but the knowledge and expertise of the people reading it and expressing it.

Get in contact
Meeting your peers every day is what I miss most about Art School. The most important thing was just being there. Talking to people and more important being open about your ideas and thoughts. Sharing your thoughts about great work made by others. If you are working it can be very difficult to find peers around you in the workplace.

Peers challenge you to go further, peers challenge you to seek your limits. For example athletes. If you would be the only guy or girl running in the world. You would try to break your personal record. But you would probably perform better if a second runner came around and broke your personal record.

The guys on Wikipedia are editing the stories because they like the fact that they know it better. They have skills and using those skills is what makes them shift upwards in the network of peers.

Engage as a news consumer
What’s the peer system for the news reader? And does it exist? Or can it be created? The peers for a journalist are clear. Someone will always write better articles or the article you would like to have written. I see co-production and an open process (involve readers in your research) as the only way journalism can work under the time pressure created by new media. And this creates enormous opportunities for journalists. Who seem to be pretty pessimistic about the future, I don’t see why.

Making news is (or will be partly) a peer review process. It has always been. Someone writes about a subject and the next day all media will write about it.

Peers vs. Sharing
Is the news consumer a peer? For me important since I’m looking for new directions and experiments on If we see peers as producers most of the news readers will not be producers. They have certain knowledge and skills that are valuable at some point. But this will only be 1% of the readers or less. And this is good. With 1% of your readers being part-time active a website of reasonable size will have more editors than any other news website.

Engage the other 99%
How can you engage the other 99%. The other part of a social network who are instead of peers (talking about what you have made) more into sharing (talking about what you have seen).

I myself share a lot through e-mail, websites like Delicious, this blog and Google Reader. But if I look at what I share there is almost never a news story. I share stories from newspapers, but almost never the news.

The fun thing is that when you are talking to someone you don’t know that well at the coffee machine, your conversation is often about the news.

What is the social umfeld of a newsarticle? Are it the comments? And how should these comments be structured? Within an anonymous group ‘all the readers’ or divided into smaller groups with the people you know, like or admire. Should news be structured into topics to create a social atmosphere?

I would like to involve people online the same way as they engage offline, talking about the news. And I have some ideas and experience on the subject.

What is it you think that truly engages the other 99%?

An update on will follow, lots of new things have happened, creating endless new possibilities