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GitHub but for docs: Meet the startups changing how we share what we know

From Black Lives Matter protest guides to how to set up a vacation policy, it's never been easier to share what you know.

Notion's homepage

Black Lives Matter supporters created databases of charities and guides on how to support the movement on Notion, one of several knowledge-sharing sites that have seen their platforms being used for change

Image: Courtesy of Notion

As the Black Lives Matter protests spread throughout the United States, Adam Nathan watched as people started searching Almanac's document directory for how they should talk to employees about the movement or adjust their HR or compensation policies in response.

"It's such an incredibly important issue that everybody needs to make change on, but it's really unclear how, and it feels like there's a lot of trapdoors where you can do it wrong," said Nathan, the co-founder and CEO of knowledge-sharing startup Almanac.

In the days following George Floyd's murder, writers started posting guides like how to run a team check-in on social justice and templates for how to write emails addressing police use of force. While bland corporate statements became a meme because of their similarity, Nathan said he saw most people searching for best practices on how to change their company for good.

"There're lots of great examples of how to structure a blog post, such that you can make a meme out of it, but there are few best practices that come from trustworthy sources around what else you can do," he said. "Our goal in helping publish these materials is to connect with D&I and racial justice experts who have been doing this work for a long time, and who need platforms that can help them get broader visibility."

It was an unanticipated, but not an unexpected use case for the startup, which is one of a handful of knowledge-sharing companies that are trying to organize information online and make it usable. While Nathan had designed Almanac to be a go-to resource for professionals looking for examples of things like marketing plans or product management guides, the startup, along with others like Coda and Notion, saw its platform being used for change.

Black Lives Matter supporters created databases of charities and guides on how to support the movement on Notion, which were shared widely on social media. Unlike Coda and Almanac, Notion currently doesn't have a way to search for community content on the website, but the company is developing a new home for it, a spokesperson said. On Coda, Amplify founder Lars Schmidt created a crowdsourced collection of Black writers and speakers in human resources to help raise the voices and profiles of Black HR leaders.

The companies are all part of the rise of knowledge-sharing startups meant to make work more organized and collaborative — an area of particular interest for venture capitalists. Coda raised $60 million from investors in 2017, and Notion raised $50 million at a $2 billion valuation in April and Almanac announced a $9 million seed funding round in May.

Instead of just being a destination for reading content, like Medium or Wikipedia, the cohort of knowledge-sharing startups are focused on helping people create and organize information, but also tap into crowdsourced knowledge that's then shared and published. Coda started as a way to create powerful documents that can include spreadsheets or presentation modes like a PowerPoint. In April, it launched a doc gallery so its users can showcase docs they've built, from a guide to Zoom games to an inside look on Figma's product roadmap.

The goal is to make it easy to go from reading a template or guide and copying it and transforming it to make it your own, all on the same platform.

"If you're reading an interesting blog post or something like that, in order to implement what you're reading, you're going to go reach for a doc or a spreadsheet or something else. And so, in the future, we hope that we can pair those two things together," said Lane Shackleton, Coda's head of product and design.

Making it easier to marry the two is the main reason why Nathan started Almanac. He had worked for the Obama administration and at Apple before he joined the early team at Lyft. "I joined thinking that I'd be building the next great rewards program and subscription program," he said. "I ended up spending most of my days just sitting in meetings trying to figure out how to operate the company instead."

He left to join a smaller fintech startup but found himself doing the same work all over again: drafting new company policies and documentation. The engineers had GitHub where they could reference other code, and designers had Figma to work together online, but Nathan realized there wasn't an equivalent for operators and knowledge workers who dealt with documents.

"The pace of the internet and innovation would move a lot slower if everybody was figuring out how to build a drop-down menu from scratch every single time," he said. "The idea that you have to design your own compensation policy by guessing is total insanity."

Almanac's now working with enterprise customers like universities and big corporations. In its paid-tier version, Almanac helps businesses link together their documents, so if one edit is made to a policy on a master document, any documents linked to it will see the same change, too, saving workers the trouble of having to manually update each one. But at its core is its library of templates and other public knowledge docs — a number that's doubled every month since its launch six months ago. It now stands at 3,000 docs.

Meanwhile, users continue to find ways to use Almanac that Nathan had never anticipated. It's not just the Black Lives Matter docs or the recipes and trip itineraries that are cropping up. Following the wave of coronavirus layoffs in the spring, he even saw knowledge workers upload examples of their policies or product management guides and submit them as part of their resume to jobs — just as engineers submit links to their GitHub accounts when applying for coding work.

"We think eventually, by open-sourcing knowledge you can change labor dynamics so that it levels the playing field where the best person can get a job based on what they know versus just whether or not they went to an Ivy League school," he said.

Power

Google wants to help you get a life

Digital car windows, curved AR glasses, automatic presentations and other patents from Big Tech.

A new patent from Google offers a few suggestions.

Image: USPTO

Another week has come to pass, meaning it's time again for Big Tech patents! You've hopefully been busy reading all the new Manual Series stories that have come out this week and are now looking forward to hearing what comes after what comes next. Google wants to get rid of your double-chin selfie videos and find things for you as you sit bored at home; Apple wants to bring translucent displays to car windows; and Microsoft is exploring how much you can stress out a virtual assistant.

And remember: The big tech companies file all kinds of crazy patents for things, and though most never amount to anything, some end up defining the future.

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Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

Sponsored Content

The future of computing at the edge: an interview with Intel’s Tom Lantzsch

An interview with Tom Lantzsch, SVP and GM, Internet of Things Group at Intel

An interview with Tom Lantzsch

Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corporation

Edge computing had been on the rise in the last 18 months – and accelerated amid the need for new applications to solve challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Tom Lantzsch, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corp., thinks there are more innovations to come – and wants technology leaders to think equally about data and the algorithms as critical differentiators.

In his role at Intel, Lantzsch leads the worldwide group of solutions architects across IoT market segments, including retail, banking, hospitality, education, industrial, transportation, smart cities and healthcare. And he's seen first-hand how artificial intelligence run at the edge can have a big impact on customers' success.

Protocol sat down with Lantzsch to talk about the challenges faced by companies seeking to move from the cloud to the edge; some of the surprising ways that Intel has found to help customers and the next big breakthrough in this space.

What are the biggest trends you are seeing with edge computing and IoT?

A few years ago, there was a notion that the edge was going to be a simplistic model, where we were going to have everything connected up into the cloud and all the compute was going to happen in the cloud. At Intel, we had a bit of a contrarian view. We thought much of the interesting compute was going to happen closer to where data was created. And we believed, at that time, that camera technology was going to be the driving force – that just the sheer amount of content that was created would be overwhelming to ship to the cloud – so we'd have to do compute at the edge. A few years later – that hypothesis is in action and we're seeing edge compute happen in a big way.

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Saul Hudson
Saul Hudson has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, especially in understanding and targeting messages in cutting-edge technologies. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, in helping companies to build passionate audiences and accelerate their growth. Hudson has reported from more than 30 countries, from war zones to boardrooms to presidential palaces. He has led multinational, multi-lingual teams and managed operations for hundreds of journalists. Hudson is a Managing Partner at Angle42, a strategic communications consultancy.
Power

It chased fraudsters. Now, Pindrop wants to simplify streaming.

The security startup has struck a partnership with TiVo to personalize voice search.

Pindrop is partnering with TiVo to bring its voice authentication technology to smart TVs and streaming devices.

Photo: Scott Eells/Getty Images

Chicken Man was trying to be clever.

Calling up banks to trick unsuspecting customer service agents, the scam artist would always play a recording of chickens in the background to mask his voice. Security experts at Pindrop, a voice authentication startup used by major financial institutions to screen 1.1 billion calls last year, got such a kick out of his efforts that they even named a conference room after him. However, Chicken Man couldn't defeat Pindrop's technology, and ultimately helped the company prepare for a new challenge: a typical family's living room.

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Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

Transforming 2021

Blockchain, QR codes and your phone: the race to build vaccine passports

Digital verification systems could give people the freedom to work and travel. Here's how they could actually happen.

One day, you might not need to carry that physical passport around, either.

Photo: CommonPass

There will come a time, hopefully in the near future, when you'll feel comfortable getting on a plane again. You might even stop at the lounge at the airport, head to the regional office when you land and maybe even see a concert that evening. This seemingly distant reality will depend upon vaccine rollouts continuing on schedule, an open-sourced digital verification system and, amazingly, the blockchain.

Several countries around the world have begun to prepare for what comes after vaccinations. Swaths of the population will be vaccinated before others, but that hasn't stopped industries decimated by the pandemic from pioneering ways to get some people back to work and play. One of the most promising efforts is the idea of a "vaccine passport," which would allow individuals to show proof that they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 in a way that could be verified by businesses to allow them to travel, work or relax in public without a great fear of spreading the virus.

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Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

People

What Tracy Chou learned about online harassment while trying to stop it

Her new app, Block Party, aims to give people control over harassing content.

Block Party founder and diversity activist Tracy Chou became the target of a Reddit harassment campaign while trying to promote the importance of anti-harassment tools.

Photo: Tracy Chou

When Tracy Chou decided to host a Reddit "Ask Me Anything" about online harassment over the summer, she knew it probably wouldn't be the easiest experience, but she'd been dealing with trolls for most of her career. How bad could it really be?

A vitriol-filled nightmare, it turns out. The woman hosting a forum on why she was building an app to protect against online harassment was the target of one of the biggest harassment campaigns of her life. Reddit users mocked her inability to answer their questions (she had, but due to a system error, her comments were disappearing before anyone could read them). They ridiculed her appearance and motivations. Someone created a campaign to say nasty things about her on Substack, attaching her name and photo to some of the posts. They moved to Twitter, and then to 4chan, where they organized a group that flooded her site with a denial of service attack until it went down.

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Anna Kramer

Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (@ anna_c_kramer), where she helps write and produce Source Code, Protocol's daily newsletter. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.

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