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Trello is getting out of to-do lists and into fixing the future of work

It's not just boards and cards, and it's not just a productivity tool anymore.

New Trello boards

Trello cards can now be YouTube videos, Figma designs and much more.

Image: Trello

Trello doesn't want to be a productivity tool anymore. At least, not in the way it's been lumped in with so many other tools in the past. Instead of a digital version of the sticky notes on your whiteboard — the Kanban framework it borrowed from software development and helped popularize everywhere — Trello now wants to be the dashboard for your entire digital work life.

What that looks like in practice is Trello rethinking the idea of what a Trello card actually is. Going forward, a Google Doc can be a Trello card. A Figma design can be a Trello card. A YouTube video, a Dropbox file, an Amazon listing — they all can be Trello cards. All exist essentially as miniature apps inside Trello, where they can be moved around, organized and discussed. Michael Pryor, Trello's head of product, said it has 30 integrations already, and it's opening up an API to anyone who wants to build their apps into Trello cards.

To explain why Trello is doing this, Pryor cites a statistic: A recent Okta study found that large companies deploy an average of 175 apps to their employees. Other studies have found that workers spend up to a third of their workday just looking for information. After decades of being tied to Lotus 1-2-3 or the Office Suite, workplace software has been thoroughly unbundled. And it's mostly a giant pain for everyone involved. "We want to help people get control of these information silos and this information sprawl and try to help them understand it," Pryor said, "but in a way that makes sense to them."

Trello is far from the only company trying to stitch things back together. Steve Wood, Slack's head of platform, told me last year that "we kind of want to be that traffic cop, or the integration layer" for every app a company uses. Slack is trying to turn messaging into the hub around which digital work spins. Dropbox is doing the same with files. Monday and others are trying to do the same thing with a to-do list. Everybody wants to be the single source of truth, the system of record. Pryor knows, after a decade of building Trello, how hard that is to do. "You might get good in this one particular area," he said, "but somebody is gonna be better at something else. It's just hard. I don't think anyone could get a critical mass." He's betting against the great rebundling of the office suite.

Trello's bet is thus simpler than most. Pryor and his team think that maybe what employees and teams actually need is just a really nice way to keep everything organized. In that sense, the new Trello is less like a to-do list and more like the evolution of a file browser. It just wants to take everything you have, wherever it is, and help you keep it all straight. That wouldn't require the entire team to buy in or switch tools, and it would work well even if the boss isn't interested. And in this era of totally unbundled software, it seems more useful than ever.

Trello boards in cards In the new Trello, a board can also be a card. In another board. Which is some serious "Inception" stuff.Image: Trello

The other thing Trello is doing is shifting away from just doing the one thing people know Trello for. When Trello launched in 2011, co-founder Joel Spolsky called it just "a bunch of lists," with cards you could move between them. That was once a novel idea, and it won Trello tens of millions of users. Now it's just called "boards," and practically every productivity tool under the sun offers them. Trello has become a feature, like Stories or text chat, rather than a standout product in its own right.

Going forward, Trello users can see their cards — in whatever form they take — in a bunch of new ways. There's a calendar view, a timeline view, a map view and a customizable dashboard view. Cards can also now live on more than one board simultaneously (which solves one of Trello's longest-standing user frustrations), with their contents mirrored everywhere. Every board is a hub of stuff, even when that stuff is other boards. A board can even be a card now, which gets heady fast.

Eventually, all those Trello cards might be practically alive. Pryor showed me a prototype of a Trello board with a card that updated in real time, showing all of his open tasks, with a live count on the front of the card. Another card could contain 10 overdue Jira tickets that need to be discussed. "In Jira, you can't discuss 10 issues," he said, "because the base level is an issue. So you have to pick an issue to discuss. But because Trello is this in-between, you can create a card that represents that query. And you can talk about those 10 issues inside Trello."

Trello's new approach tends to come with two challenges. First, there's the "fixing your too-many-tools problem by adding another tool" issue, which Trello hopes it can skirt by virtue of the fact that more than 50 million people already use Trello. (Pryor said it's "way more than 50 million," but wouldn't be more specific.) Second, as Slack and others have found, it's not easy to get paying customers when your primary benefit is to improve the other apps they already pay for. Slack likes to talk about how it's the "2% of your software budget that makes the other 98% more valuable," but it has struggled because Microsoft Teams doesn't cost that extra 2%.

There's also what you might call the Frenemies Conundrum, in which an app integrates other apps while also competing with them. That leads to multiple ways to do everything, inevitably prizing one over another, and creates general confusion and chaos. When I asked Pryor if Trello is done being its own product-management tool, instead focusing entirely on integrating everything else, he said only, "I don't know." But then he brought up Pinterest, and the huge amount of value it brings to people with its collection, organization and search abilities. There's no point in Pinterest except as a way to access other things — there's no huge library of native Pinterest content — but Pinterest is doing just fine. Maybe Trello's future looks like "Pinterest for work."

The need for order in the chaos of work software is clearer than ever, and companies around the world are rethinking their software stacks as they shift toward a more remote, more digital future. Trello's hope is to be the glue that holds the rest of work together, for just a few extra bucks a month.

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.

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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.

Microsoft’s new Viva tool gives ‘productivity’ a more human definition

Getting more done is still the plan, but Microsoft's trying to help keep everyone sane, too.

Viva Connections is just one part of Microsoft's new way of thinking about the employee experience.

Image: Microsoft

Microsoft is launching a new set of tools designed to help companies be more productive. That's not a terribly revolutionary thing for Microsoft to do, but the approach this time is quite different. The new set of tools, called Microsoft Viva, is less about increasing operational efficiency or hitting your KPIs faster, and more about making sure employees are happy, sane and feel taken care of.

While Viva is a set of tools, it's ultimately part of an even larger family: Microsoft's building a new "Employee Experience Platform" to try to help redefine, quantify and achieve a new definition of employee success. The industry Microsoft is trying to capture is worth hundreds of billions of dollars a year, dominated by companies like ServiceNow. And Viva is Microsoft's first foot into the fray. So far, Viva is four things: Viva Learning, a hub for all of a company's training and courses; Viva Topics, an automatically curated library of various internal videos, presentations and other content; Viva Connections, a Facebook Workplace-style intranet that can help people find resources within the company; and Viva Insights, which aims to measure and help improve employee experience.

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David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

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

Google’s productivity guru has some advice for you

Here's how Laura Mae Martin helps Google's top execs work smarter.

Laura Mae Martin, Google's executive productivity adviser, works one-on-one with the company's top brass.

Image: Google

If productivity were a product at Google, then Laura Mae Martin would be its product manager.

She's Google's executive productivity adviser, a job she created following a successful 20% project about managing inboxes that she debuted while working in keyword sales. As the company's top expert on productivity, her remit seems simple enough: Make Googlers more efficient in their day-to-day work lives. But in practice, that means working directly with the top executives of a trillion-dollar company to make some of tech's most sought-after talent better at what they do.

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Kevin McAllister

Kevin McAllister ( @k__mcallister) is an associate editor at Protocol, leading the development of Braintrust. Prior to joining the team, he was a rankings data reporter at The Wall Street Journal, where he oversaw structured data projects for the Journal's strategy team.

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