When it comes to collaboration, chat is only the beginning

Oct 25, 2021

“When you need to innovate, you need collaboration.” - Marissa Mayer

more than chat blog

Over the course of my career, I’ve been lucky enough to work with a lot of entrepreneurs and business leaders. Sooner or later, whether over coffee or catching up after a meeting, I always ask the same question: what do you think is the most important part of being a successful leader? I’ve gotten a lot of answers, some long, some short, but one message has always come through loud and clear: a great leader fosters collaboration, because good collaboration is what builds good business.


As hybrid work becomes the standard for businesses, the need for digital collaboration has become paramount. As I’ve detailed many times before, companies across the app landscape are scrambling to add chat to their platforms to make them more collaborative. While in-app chat is an important part of great collaboration, it only scratches the surface of what it means to be truly collaborative within your app.

Chat: a great start

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, over 33% of adults said Chat was their ideal way to communicate. Even in office environments where in-person conversations were only a short walk away, dedicated chat applications like Slack and Microsoft Teams had become the de facto method of communication, with both apps having monthly active users in the tens of millions. The rapid shift to remote and hybrid work in early 2020 transformed chat from a nicety of business to an essential component of workplace culture.


So when it comes to adding collaboration to your app, adding in-app chat is a no-brainer. In the highly competitive world of productivity apps, stickiness is the surest path to success. So taking an oft-used feature like Chat and bringing it into your app is one of the quickest, and least expensive ways to increase engagement and retention. When integrated correctly, users never have to navigate away from your app to ask important business questions.


But in-app chat is hardly the end all and be all of either collaboration and communication. For all its strengths, there are limitations to chat that can’t be ignored. Chat is a persistent conversation: a single stream of conversation without branching threads. Even with searchable text, a lot can happen over the course of a day in a chat. Chat is great for quick communication, but as an organizational tool it’s lacking.


Ask yourself: how many times have you stopped a colleague in a Chat to ask them to specify what they’re referring to? Very few people do only one task in their workday, and people often find themselves juggling tasks throughout the day, often having conversations about all of them. Reducing all those conversations to one chat means a loss of context. 


There’s also the reality that not all Chat is necessarily productive, and often can mean a chat conversation between colleagues can be a giant mix of on and off topic discussions. While off topic conversations are important to building a great company culture, the mix-up can create confusion and distraction.


To take communication and collaboration to the next level in your app, you need to add contextual collaboration, and for true contextual collaboration you need to consider how you can build upon the foundation of chat. The best tool to build on that foundation is activity feeds.


What are activity feeds?

Activity feeds are an in-app space where users can share updates and other users can comment or discuss the update. If you’ve used a social media app in the past several years, you’ve undoubtedly experienced an activity feed in one variety or another. Activity Feeds traditionally exist in two ways: news feeds and object oriented feeds.


News Feeds

Twitter, in a nutshell, is little more than one massive news feed. When you open Twitter, you see an endless stream of posts. Each of these posts can contain text, images, videos, or combinations thereof. Other users from across Twitter can be tagged via @ mentions, and users can reply in threads contained under the posts. Whole conversations occur with little confusion or backtracking, because the threaded replies keep things organized for the end users.


With Weavy’s Feeds API, you can add the exact same functionality to your application. You can create news feeds, either centralized or specialized, where users can post and communicate in this organized, threaded fashion. To give an example of how this works in practice, the Weavy team itself utilizes feeds in a few configurations. The first is our all company feed, where every member of the Weavy team is allowed to post, comment, and interact with other posts. Every day, members of the Weavy team use it to make important announcements, tag other team members in success stories, or just share the latest and greatest recipe for pickled herring.


Another way Weavy uses News Feeds is to create interdepartmental Feeds. Our Marketing & Sales feed is a crucial way our two teams collaborate, strategize, and keep up to date with important interdepartmental projects. Our Product feed provides a platform for our customer success teams and onboarding engineers to share user feedback with our development team so they can refine our product roadmap. But the real power of contextual collaboration begins when you get started with object oriented feeds.


Object Oriented Feeds

Any post to Facebook, and the comments that live underneath, is itself a small object oriented activity feed allowing for contextual conversations around the post. These conversations are easy to follow and easier to join because they’re contextual: there’s no confusion over who is talking about what, because the entire conversation is oriented around a single object.


Imagine how easy it is to see a photo on social media and leave a comment, now imagine if you could do that for a new version of your corporate logo. Or even better yet: a spreadsheet. Now imagine if you could have an entire threaded conversation with user tagging over even a single point of data. Object oriented feeds allow users to do just that.


As an example, the team at Weavy relies on Google Analytics to measure per channel performance on our website. When measuring the success of something like this blog post, that often requires drilling down into several menus to see the appropriate results. Now if I saw better than average traffic from organic search, I might want to share that with our performance manager, who is responsible for SEO optimization. 


This leaves me with a difficult choice: either I take a series of screenshots to share with her, or I copy and paste one of Google Analytics comically long URLs into our chat. Now if this is where our collaboration ended that might not be the worst use-case. But if she has a question: say a certain search query had exceptional results, or a keyword underperformed, things can start to get complicated quickly as URLs or highlighted screenshots fly back and forth.


Imagine instead if Google Analytics integrated Weavy’s Feeds API, the situation outlined above would be so much simpler. Instead of sending a never-ending URL or a screenshot, I could instead open an activity feed underneath the performance drilldown for my blog post, and simply use an @ mention to tag my colleagues. From there we could have an entire conversation oriented exclusively around that object.


With one simple, but powerful, change a new level of clarity and context can be brought to a complex discussion. The beauty of object oriented feeds is that the possibilities for their use are endless. With proper implementation, any object in your app can be a space for communication and collaboration.


Continuing the journey to collaboration

All across the productivity landscape, app developers are in an arms race to meet the demand for collaboration. While many developers are very reasonably starting by integrating chat, which is great for creating a collaborative atmosphere and reducing churn, the journey to creating true collaboration inside an app requires more. 

In the world of collaboration, Chat is the bare minimum, so much so that we don’t even believe in charging to integrate it into your app. Activity Feeds take collaboration to another level, and do so in a way users already intuitively understand. There are always more steps to be taken, like adding a more robust way to share files in your app, but that’s another show.


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