Containers and Payload

tangoAny system/tool/platform/product that combines content with workflow has two components. Let’s call them the container and the payload. Each requires something from the other to be of any worth together. And either of the components can be worked on – though not entirely independently – for betterment. But sometimes strange things happen. Take for instance e-mail. The e-mail ecosystem has the client as container and the mail (the stuff we write) as payload. E-mail client developers assumed they had not much control on the payload so they went about making the container smarter. Search, labels, keyboard shortcuts, themes, threaded conversations and so on. Later providers like Mailbox (and I am told Inbox, though I am still waiting for an invite) attempted at taking the payload and infusing smartness into it. But in reality for e-mail ecosystems no matter how smart the containers became, the payload was slowly moving towards extinction. Conversations had started moving away to instant messaging platforms of various forms (IM clients) and delivery mechanisms (like WhatsApp). No matter how smart the container became, the payload was getting irrelevant by the day and those with their necks immersed in the containers (no pun) never saw that happening

This presents a rather interesting situation for those building content and workflow combos. The conundrum – which should be made smarter – containers or payloads? One way to examine this is to ask the question – what would reduce friction between the user and the task outcome? (Just pause a minute to consider that strikethrough. Very often we focus on the task and become oblivious to why the task is performed). Workflow and content combos in enterprise software invariably play to productivity and efficiency. The question for a product manager finally boils down to how can those two be improved

Product managers have different levels of leverage on the container and payload (example, email client developers have less control on the payload. Imagine a mail client asking email senders of recipients to add tags to their text before they can be processed). Control over payload is usually less. And this is where effort should be directed to make the payload smarter over the condition in which it arrives even before we start looking at smart containers. For example

  • Text mining to improve contextual understanding of unstructured content
  • Interlinking of entities for multi-dimensional content
  • Algorithmic understanding of relationships
  • … and so on

As we work through the layers of containers and payload, it is useful to remember that it takes two to tango. And their could be work to do at either end

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