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Figma's next product is a multiplayer whiteboard called FigJam

FigJam is a simple tool for brainstorming, and the next step toward the company's vision for a multiplayer internet.

FigJam example, with whiteboard and diagrams.

FigJam is meant to be a brainstorm tool, a freeform place for teams to just hang out and try stuff together.

Image: Figma

The most important thing Figma got right, even back in its early days, was to bet on multiplayer. It built a browser-based, inherently collaborative tool for interface design, like Google Docs for designers. (And then, unlike Google Docs, Figma spent years improving on the idea.) The market spent years moving toward Figma, first by making design a more important part of every company and product, and then by forcing everyone to work from home for a year. Suddenly an accessible, multiplayer design tool became a necessity.

In certain ways, though, the market was not just catching up to Figma but passing it by. Users didn't want a tool just for dragging around visual assets; they wanted a way to communicate, to brainstorm, to present. Figma CEO Dylan Field said he's been watching this happen during the pandemic: "People are making complex and cool illustrations, or they're planning out their gardens or their bookshelves, they're making cities online, or Slack goes down and they start chatting in Figma!" Figma thought its core feature was design, but users made clear that multiplayer was the thing.

In fact, that's been the case for years. "Back in 2015," Field said, "when we launched our closed beta, people were using it for diagramming and whiteboarding." But when the pandemic happened, the need suddenly felt more urgent, and the requests for whiteboarding features went up. So Field and Figma sped up the roadmap and built the company's second product ever: a whiteboarding app called FigJam. (Don't worry if the names are confusing; even Field had to enunciate each one as he explained them. But he liked the fun and punny-ness of the name, and he thinks you'll come around.) "What we've tried to create here is basically the best space, the best experience, for teams to be able to play together," Field said. It's designed to be simple and fun above all else.

As he flew around a screen-shared demo, Field used a fake Netflix design project to demonstrate FigJam's features. It has diagramming tools that allow users to drop boxes and draw arrows; it's easy to add Figma assets, add annotations or jot down notes. There's a permanent audio chat space, where people can jump in to discuss what they're looking at. Want to vote on something, or show support? Use a thumbs-up stamp, or click and hold to use a really big thumbs-up stamp. Or use the sticker that just says "Magic."

FigJam is meant to be a brainstorm tool, a freeform place for teams to just hang out and try stuff together. That's a tricky thing to get right on the internet, when spotty internet connections and laggy software can make for conflicting, messy collaboration. It's also an increasingly popular idea: Companies like Miro and Whimsical have grown during the pandemic as teams have looked for ways to work together remotely. Even Google and Microsoft are building increasingly powerful whiteboarding tools into their work offerings, paired with connected hardware — the Jamboard and the Surface Hub, respectively — for when some folks are back in person.

Figma's bet is that it can build the simplest, fastest, most interactive and multiplayer tool of them all. Which sounds like typical startup bluster, except that that's exactly how Figma took the design world by storm a few years ago.

Field pointed to an essay by designer John Palmer, called "Spatial Interfaces," which he said helped him understand how the multiplayer internet should feel. Palmer wrote: "I recently tried using Figma to hang out with friends in the evening due to its sense of presence. Live cursor positions let us all know that we were actively participating." That sense of movement, of using cursors as bodies, became core to the FigJam interface. "As we thought about how we make it so people can show up in the space and recognize others in the space," Field said, "that became sort of a principle." FigJam users can see each other's cursors as they move around the page, and type into a text box that appears above their own name to share thoughts and status updates. Chat becomes part of the whiteboard, and attached to the user, rather than relegated to a box off to the side.

FigJam is mostly a desktop app, because the kind of work it's good for is mostly done by people sitting at desktops and laptops. But Figma's slowly investing more in mobile. "Mobile for us is more about the browsing and consuming of work right now than the creation of work," Field said. The new version of the app makes it easier to mirror designs to a phone, or browse through FigJam boards. "But I think it'll be interesting to see down the road how we can use it — especially tablet — down the road for creation."

For now, FigJam is still a bit of an experiment. It's free to use through the end of 2021, partly as a kindness to remote workers and partly because it's very much still a beta product. Ultimately, it could be one in a line of new Figma products, bringing both visual thinking and collaboration to more corners of the internet. Field said he's confident that the next phase of the internet is about bringing multiplayer to everything, and Figma happens to be pretty good at doing so.

Protocol | Workplace

In Silicon Valley, it’s February 2020 all over again

"We'll reopen when it's right, but right now the world is changing too much."

Tech companies are handling the delta variant in differing ways.

Photo: alvarez/Getty Images

It's still 2021, right? Because frankly, it's starting to feel like March 2020 all over again.

Google, Apple, Uber and Lyft have now all told employees they won't have to come back to the office before October as COVID-19 case counts continue to tick back up. Facebook, Google and Uber are now requiring workers to get vaccinated before coming to the office, and Twitter — also requiring vaccines — went so far as to shut down its reopened offices on Wednesday, and put future office reopenings on hold.

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Allison Levitsky is a reporter at Protocol covering workplace issues in tech. She previously covered big tech companies and the tech workforce for the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Allison grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from UC Berkeley.

After a year and a half of living and working through a pandemic, it's no surprise that employees are sending out stress signals at record rates. According to a 2021 study by Indeed, 52% of employees today say they feel burnt out. Over half of employees report working longer hours, and a quarter say they're unable to unplug from work.

The continued swell of reported burnout is a concerning trend for employers everywhere. Not only does it harm mental health and well-being, but it can also impact absenteeism, employee retention and — between the drain on morale and high turnover — your company culture.

Crisis management is one thing, but how do you permanently lower the temperature so your teams can recover sustainably? Companies around the world are now taking larger steps to curb burnout, with industry leaders like LinkedIn, Hootsuite and Bumble shutting down their offices for a full week to allow all employees extra time off. The CEO of Okta, worried about burnout, asked all employees to email him their vacation plans in 2021.

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Protocol | China

Livestreaming ecommerce next battleground for China’s nationalists

Vendors for Nike and even Chinese brands were harassed for not donating enough to Henan.

Nationalists were trolling in the comment sections of livestream sessions selling products by Li-Ning, Adidas and other brands.

Collage: Weibo, Bilibili

The No. 1 rule of sales: Don't praise your competitor's product. Rule No. 2: When you are put to a loyalty test by nationalist trolls, forget the first rule.

While China continues to respond to the catastrophic flooding that has killed 99 and displaced 1.4 million people in the central province of Henan, a large group of trolls was busy doing something else: harassing ordinary sportswear sellers on China's livestream ecommerce platforms. Why? Because they determined that the brands being sold had donated too little, or too late, to the people impacted by floods.

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Zeyi Yang
Zeyi Yang is a reporter with Protocol | China. Previously, he worked as a reporting fellow for the digital magazine Rest of World, covering the intersection of technology and culture in China and neighboring countries. He has also contributed to the South China Morning Post, Nikkei Asia, Columbia Journalism Review, among other publications. In his spare time, Zeyi co-founded a Mandarin podcast that tells LGBTQ stories in China. He has been playing Pokemon for 14 years and has a weird favorite pick.

The video game industry is bracing for its Netflix and Spotify moment

Subscription gaming promises to upend gaming. The jury's out on whether that's a good thing.

It's not clear what might fall through the cracks if most of the biggest game studios transition away from selling individual games and instead embrace a mix of free-to-play and subscription bundling.

Image: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

Subscription services are coming for the game industry, and the shift could shake up the largest and most lucrative entertainment sector in the world. These services started as small, closed offerings typically available on only a handful of hardware platforms. Now, they're expanding to mobile phones and smart TVs, and promising to radically change the economics of how games are funded, developed and distributed.

Of the biggest companies in gaming today, Amazon, Apple, Electronic Arts, Google, Microsoft, Nintendo, Nvidia, Sony and Ubisoft all operate some form of game subscription. Far and away the most ambitious of them is Microsoft's Xbox Game Pass, featuring more than 100 games for $9.99 a month and including even brand-new titles the day they release. As of January, Game Pass had more than 18 million subscribers, and Microsoft's aggressive investment in a subscription future has become a catalyst for an industrywide reckoning on the likelihood and viability of such a model becoming standard.

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Nick Statt
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Protocol | Policy

Lina Khan wants to hear from you

The new FTC chair is trying to get herself, and the sometimes timid tech-regulating agency she oversees, up to speed while she still can.

Lina Khan is trying to push the FTC to corral tech companies

Photo: Graeme Jennings/AFP via Getty Images

"When you're in D.C., it's very easy to lose connection with the very real issues that people are facing," said Lina Khan, the FTC's new chair.

Khan made her debut as chair before the press on Wednesday, showing up to a media event carrying an old maroon book from the agency's library and calling herself a "huge nerd" on FTC history. She launched into explaining how much she enjoys the open commission meetings she's pioneered since taking over in June. That's especially true of the marathon public comment sessions that have wrapped up each of the two meetings so far.

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Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

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