Why "Collaboration-First" Products Succeed in the Market
Between remote working and a desire for both greater efficiency and flexibility, many businesses want collaborative worktools. While you won’t find many business applications that don’t offer collaboration in some way, there’s a big difference between those that have it at their heart and those that have tried to add it on to an existing product. An application specifically designed for collaboration can add new features relatively smoothly. On the other hand, developers of an application that doesn't have collaboration as a core principle often struggle to add collaborative features later on.
Take Microsoft Office, for example. Because its original business model was based on licensing specific workstations, it was fundamentally designed for individual use rather than collaboration. The days of “Track Changes” bringing users to tears may be over, but its collaborative features still feel like a tacked-on workaround.
That’s not a design choice, but rather a fundamental characteristic of the default file types such as docx or xls. Every time you save a document, you create an entirely new copy of the file. That makes for a painful task to track down who made what change to what part of the document at what time.
Contrast this with Google’s offerings, such as GSuite (now Google Workspaces). Nobody pretends it can compete with Office for the amount or variety of features, but it’s designed for collaboration from the outset. That means every time Google tweaks or adds a new feature, it fits smoothly from a collaboration perspective.
Collaboration has become a real killer feature in some fields such as design tools, where Sketch used to dominate. As with Office, it started off only available through a standard “on the premises” license that meant there was no need to build collaboration into its core structure. When customer demands changed, it struggled to find a way to make collaboration features fit without a major rebuild. As recently as December 2020, it offered real-time collaboration as merely a beta feature that required a separate Microsoft Teams subscription.
Many write-ups point to rival Figma’s key advantage as being that it works in browsers rather than requiring MacOS. That’s true, but it’s also an example of a wider difference: Figma was designed and built with collaboration in mind. Although it’s nowhere near as fully featured as Sketch, every time Figma adds something new, there is much less hassle making sure it works collaboratively.
The results are clear to see in the market. A survey by UX Tools found Figma is catching up with Sketch in many user types, with Figma is already the preferred choice among businesses with fewer than 100 employees, including the freelancer market.
For some workflow startups, collaboration isn’t just a core design choice but the primary feature. Look at Miro, an “online collaborative whiteboard platform” that reports having 10 million users. By making collaboration the entire point of what it does, it’s able to target a wide audience, citing eight key use cases from meetings to mind mapping.
Meanwhile, Pitch describes itself as “Uncompromisingly good presentation software.” A bold claim explained by its second tagline: “Purpose-built for teams.” By putting collaboration at the center of the product, its potential isn’t limited or compromised by the size of a team, the devices they use, or their balance of real-time and asynchronous collaboration.
It's the same story in every case:
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