An entirely new take on working, collaborating and sharing

In recent months, then suddenly recent weeks and then days, things have been evolving at a pace never seen before; I feel the same buzz I did when I was aged 8-12. A period in which I would go to London with my parents, and we would visit Tottenham court road to see the new trends in technology of that year.

We would set out early in the morning by car and go to London. Visit nanny and go see the endless line of technology shops; yes this was the PC era, the time in which technology was entering in the homes of millions. When our play games and things would start to go from board games to “computers” that could connect to the TV and let us play with a friend, in two or maybe even in four further down the line.

Every day, a new ad would run on tv or the radio or in the latest newspaper or magazine. It would carry with it a sense of excitement for the future possibilities, economy, and enriched families’ lives.

So on these trips, you could see things like, the latest laserdisc player, promising supper high resolution and crisp sound, or the latest cameras (still with film) or the most modern VHS recorders, or all sorts of really cool and exciting gadgets, even music was such an excitement, going from the “ghetto-blasters” of the time to home hi-fi stereos, to Walkmans.

I can still remember when it was finally time for the search for the PC – The personal Computer that would be Brough for the family; I was very fortunate to have a mum and dad that were very keen on knowledge and on learning and on self-improvement (wasn’t called like that at the time of course). Dad was saying that we had used the Olivetti “electronic” Typewriter long enough and we had successfully matured into needing a “Word Processor” for typing the “family-run business”, we had gone to look for the Amstrad word processor. This was a fantastic piece of kit; it had a keyboard, a combined unit that was both the screen and the CRT monitor, and an operating system specifically for typing letters.

Amstrad PCW, thanks to Amstrad PCW 9512 microcomputer, 1987..Photographed straight on view on a white background.
Science Museum Group Collection
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

When we returned home, the unpacking, the one that still gave a buzz of genuine excitement or realisation of being in front of something completely new, never tried before. The experience of typing a letter on this “dedicated machine” was terrific. It improved mum and dad’s writing speed, content and volume of documents exponentially. You could write and write and write, and then the printer would print on A4 paper the letters. Truly amazing.

A couple of years went by, and then dad told me about the PC – actually, the Personal Computer, which would enable you to have a dedicated machine, that could be multi-purpose a bit like having a kitchen robot before kitchen robots existed. The premise sounded really interesting, as dad was saying you could write letters on there, and then do some maths and calculations, draw and even consult an encyclopedia!…. Bear in mind I had the entire British Encyclopaedia collection, both adult and children’s, one on the library shelves in the sitting room of our house. I was fascinated by those books and the amount of knowledge in there. But the simple idea of seeing that content in a “CD-ROM” made me a tingle of excitement.

So once again we were on the way to London, this time the mission was the Personal Computer…
Our visit to nanny flew by, and soon it was time to see the computer shops on Tottenham Court Road.
We entered various shops, one had Apple Machinktosh in it, prominent on the shelf, but after marvelling at it, dad and mum concluded the price was too high. So we moved on…

After a couple of shops, we entered one with the Compatible PC Computer, which was finally the suitable composition of technology and price… dad went through the list of “accessories” he thought would be helpful. The salesman couldn’t believe how lucky he was that day; we came away with the PC Computer case itself, the keyboard, the mouse, the CGA screen, a matrix dot printer, its stand and an A3 Pen plotter… like, OMG… even a plotter to draw in colour (6 for the precision…) and yes the CDROM too and the sound card. The trip back couldn’t end fast enough… the car was full of boxes.

Once home, we unpacked carefully and in oar each of the components and put them according to the manual (a book… an entire actual book), out on the desk the destination of this PC. I can still remember today the sound the power supply fan made when it switched on the first time. Memories muddle over time, and I will not try to recall all the details, but I can remember one of the things we had purchased for the CD-ROM was the “I think” Encarta encyclopedia multimedia. It was terrific; I searched the term I had read about in the paper encyclopedia, and there, sure enough, was the text in colour, with links, references, bibliographic additions, footmarks and even pictures and a low-resolution video… of the first step of man on the moon… I will never forget that moment for my entire life, me, dad and mum listening to Neil Armstrong… one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind… Wow, the future had indeed arrived at home.

Dad has always pushed me to learn, learn and learn some more. Always remain curious and try to learn more about the little things. Curious how many years later I would end up working for the company that, with the guidance of one man, would change our lives many, many times over. But that is a story for another day; I will say that is why the phrase of Steve Jobs always struck me and resonated with me… it was an analogy paraphrase of what my dad would say, what my dad would give me the example of every day. “Stay hungry, stay foolish”.

Over the years, childhood turned to youth, youth to teenage, teenage to young adult, and so on. But I remember that every time a new product came to the Computer, we would either try it, buy it or experiment with it. One such software was the Brain, by brain technologies. A software that promised in its early days to help you make a “brain-similar” copy of your knowledge and enable you to search it and map it out. We had tried the software, dad had shown me how powerful this was and had told me the importance of “spacial awareness in thoughts” and how these, discussed in a book called “il Teatro della memorial”, proved that if you tie thoughts to locations, physical spaces, these become easier to remember, to understand and to correlate, but most of all to recall when needed… wow this was indeed a revolution. You could put your thoughts into something and search for them later. (I will return in another article on this whole topic of the Digital brain and knowledge management, but another time….).

So trying to maintain focus on the topic at hand, I spent my years of first jobs and university in a mix of exciting new possibilities, computer science engineering, while working a PC network installation job, gaming and living at the most.

As one job moved on into another, gradually technology was progressing, from PCs that were becoming more and more powerful, to software that was becoming more and more complete… these were the years of Microsoft presenting MS word… excel and then office… all one after the other at a fantastic pace.

Microsoft was indeed a powerhouse of innovation at the time, and the software with Clippy (the office assistant), intelligent auto-completion, print union, and macros, was becoming the future of the “knowledge worker”. A new bread of employees, a new bread of workers, that could make these instruments play a coordinated symphony of productivity. Productivity went through the roof… companies prospered with the amount of IP produced, and the profits and economy started to gallop at full speed. The tune was triumphant.

All great, right….?! Well, because suddenly, the notes started to play out of tune, out of rhythm, and suddenly it was a cacophony of sounds. We had walked into the era of information overload. The content creation potential, the computers, the internet, the office, the mediums, etc., had just outdone our capacity to make connections, to join the dots, to remember the endless amounts of links, thoughts, materials, documents, calculations created over the years, All of a sudden we were being called to be the index of our knowledge. An impossible task. Productivity started to decline, and attention spans, too, began to shorten.

Over this period, many companies promised to come up with the “searching” solution, with the answer to the problem of knowledge management, the true knowledge management, the one that when you think, dam… I knew or read or wrote something about this, and I cannot find where it is, or it was lost in this or that document, in this or that mind map, or in this or that email, or sms, or chat, or message… Just too fragmented.

Along comes much talk about machine learning, Ai (Artificial intelligence), Computer-based algorithms, etc. Lots of jargon for years with very little progress or tranquil islands of progress. Some applications solve some aspects of the problem while inevitably forgetting or discarding other areas of the bigger problem. The proliferation of email clients, task managers, project management tools, finance applications, editing software, note-taking software, and sharing software. Software everywhere… but all with one fundamental flaw, with a richness of features and functionalities, came a host of alternative routes to tracking, remembering and recalling solutions. But none are convenient and truly functional. Why? Well, simple, we are not simple, we are not made of an evolution trail that has given us an endless remembering brain, but more one, that is good at solving problems… “i.e. joining the dots… problem-solving”… not remembering, not recalling, and defiantly not finding documents and files.

A couple of months ago, more and more articles and texts mentioned on social media about the OpenAI project started to emerge. This then gradually, as you know, Brough about the topic of Chat GPT…very simply put, the basis of the possibility and reality of technically being able to ask a piece of software a question (without having to think too hard on how to ask it, and certainly without having to formulate it in search engine terms), and from their being able to have the answer in text form, written, summarised and presented in a simple form… Not a list of pages, not an endless list of links, where once again the human has to spend an hour or so, wading through pages upon pages upon pages of content and having to re-elaborate back into something of structure.

And now, just as it happened in the PC era, innovation has started to gain momentum again, not a simple incremental iteration of previous things, but true new and uncharged innovation. All the big companies, all the big corporations, attracted by a new and enormous possibility of differentiation or incremental revenue, suddenly are on the hunt again. One of these is Microsoft. Over the years, in the face of those that say “a company is made by its culture, not by single individuals”, it has reinvented itself with Satya Nadella. The CEO that has brought. Innovation breaths air back into Microsoft. Has made a first revolutionary step in the direction of integrating technologies, like Chat GPT, into their most important product… windows?! Nope, into Microsoft office… a legacy of 40 years of knowing how to make feature-rich editors, spreadsheets, etc. But only now are we in front of an entirely new landscape… Microsoft 365 Loop.

I have many years of Microsoft family 365 accounts, and today I have finally taken the time to look into the Loop buzz that was hitting me from all sides.

I will now give you my impressions…..

First of all, the Preview or beta of the product is in open to customers mode, so anyone with a Microsoft 365 paid account has it to try. I logged into my 365 accounts, and sure enough, there it is. Here you can see the home page.

When you click on the card of a workspace, theme or topic. You are welcomed with a structure that reminds you a lot of Notion. Or even Craft.

Here you can see that the web application loads into a view that enables you to interact with the content, but not in the way we have been used to in the passed. Here there are no single applications like Word, or Excel, or Powerpoint, or To-Do. Just components and free-flowing content, you can create different content all mixed in together, flowing from a To-Do lis, then straight into a Table and then back into normal flowing text.

It comes with pre-populated content to actually ready as a “marketing material piece of collateral. Smart move, indeed.

One of the very interesting aspects is the choice to enable the user to create “snippets” of text, content, that is created onces, appears in multiple instances, is editable in any of those instances, and then those changes propagate to all the other recurrences of this object. Very much like the concept of Object-oriented programming, you have libraries of components and these as instances of pre-prepared code.

This is what it looks like:

The content snippet once created, is then insertable in any other area of the space. You can basically create for yourselves a content library of reusable components.

You can also insert parts of content from the library that loops make available by default to users; here is an example of the insert from the library.

And here are the other objects you can insert from the contextual menu.

The other great feature is the possibility to mix content together, like a table, mentions, and even dynamically assigning tasks to a user. Here is an example, I mentioned my own office user in the table and got the notification from there.

Having said all of that… the game is on, Google with Google Workplace, Apple with Apple Works, Notion, Craft, The Brain, etc. etc… all software that has enormous potential in the face of this incredible technology that is forming under our very eyes.

Additionally, there now in very recent days news of legislation scrambling to catchup with the consequences of such technology becoming available. Still stay tuned, as clearly more coverage to come.

If you haven’t tried a “flavour of Chat GPT” you should, if only to understand what a revolution is. Silently happening under your nose.

Thanks for taking the time to read and look at my thoughts today on this page.

In the coming days, there will be an in-depth review and video on my YouTube channel.

If you want to try Microsoft Loop here is the starting page that also gives you an introduction to the content explaining what Loop is.