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Introducing Pulse

Leonardo Federico · May 28th, 2020

Sametab is now Pulse. This week we introduced a new identity. This new identity aligns with our renewed focus: help companies stay aligned by creating, maintaining, and measuring their operational rhythm. In this post, I will give more details about the problem we're solving and the product we're building. I will close with a few lines on what you can expect next from us.

The Problem

Our premise is simple. Businesses should have a much simpler, less noisy, and more self-paced way of staying aligned on what matters.

Unfortunately, that’s not the way things work these days.

And here's why.

First, Chat

Chat is the de-facto way teams use to communicate, collaborate, and stay on the same page. Most organizations today use IM for everything. And at the beginning, it just works. Moderate discussions, high signal/noise ratio, frictionless way to interact with each other.

But things quickly change. Chat breaks as soon as the company reaches a certain headcount threshold. The chart below is a good summary of the journey most companies go through.

graph that shows how the transparency changes with slack as the company scales

  • [2 - 10 people] Stage 1: The ramp-up. In the ramp-up phase the amount of conversations is still digestible. Channels aren't polluted and it's easy to stay on top of everything for everyone.
  • [80 - 100 people] Stage 2: The inflection point. As soon as the company approaches 80+ employees in size things start to change. Confusion arises more often and notifications start being too invasive. But with some common sense and self-judgment, the environment is still manageable.
  • [> 100 people] Stage 3. Valley of despair. Things start slipping through the cracks. Channels are double the total number of employees. Confusion and rambling dominate the space. It's very difficult to stay on top of things without missing anything important.

Does that mean chat isn't helpful at scale? No. It means you can't use it like you were when there were 10 people. As daily usage increases, the signal-to-noise ratio decreases. And that brings to the light a whole separate set of connected issues. More on this soon.

Second, Knowledge Base

On the other side of the spectrum, you have wikis and knowledge base. Almost every company has one. Whether it's Confluence, Notion, Quip, or anything else it doesn't matter. On the surface, they all do one thing: storing information.

Knowledge bases are to words, as storage & databases are to computing.

Perfect for long-term information. Unsuited for transactional knowledge.

Why?

The fact that you wrote something somewhere in your knowledge base does not imply people find it (and read it). We will unpack more this topic in other articles, but for now, think about Norman's knowledge theory.

There are two types of knowledge: knowledge in the world and knowledge in the head.

If knowledge in the world is a database that we have to interrogate to extract what we need, knowledge in the head is the cache layer that sits on top. Easy to access and fast to query. KBs help to create knowledge in the world but are less effective in creating knowledge in the head. The user still needs to be deliberate about taking action and consuming. And there's a considerable extra amount of friction involved in that process.

Rigorous team alignment happens when everyone has the same level of knowledge in the head.

Third, Intranets

This is not what the cool kids are using these days, but I assure you, they still exist and we've seen a lot of customers using them. The problem intranets have today are the problems they had 20 years ago. Cumbersome in usability, bloated in functionalities, and hard to deploy.

We've seen that internal intranet adoption tends to decrease in the next 3 to 5 months after launch.

Here is a simplified sketch of a real chart that a customer has passed us.

graph that shows how internal adoption changes over time for intranets

The Solution

Some of the best companies learned to communicate differently. And that resulted in better team alignment. These companies all share one common trait: a strong written culture. One that privileges slow thinking over fast and reflective chat conversations. Proactive, as opposed to reactive. One where you can solidify everyone's thinking, only through excellent writing.

Stripe & Email Transparency

Stripe runs its internal communications on emails. To be more specific, internal distribution mailing lists. How does this work?

Every email at Stripe is CC-ed to mailing lists that go to either the entire company or to any particular team. This includes not only one-to-many communication but also internal person-to-person correspondence. The mailing lists include dev, sys, office, product and support and more. There are hundreds of them.

In theory, it looks simple. In practice – when you're above and beyond 2000+ employees – it's not, but they've somehow made it work at a scale.

It requires some discipline to pull this off. But in the end, this creates a company fire hose that everyone can dip in and out of whenever they want.

The benefits of having such a system in place are clear. To name a few:

  • Provide the full history on interactions that are relevant to you.
  • Provide a way for serendipitous interactions to happen.
  • Make conversations persistent and linkable.
  • Let you keep up with things going on at various other parts of Stripe, at whatever granularity you want.
  • Reduce team siloing. It makes it easier to function as a remote organization.
  • Not only increase alignment, but also provides a feeling of connectedness to the rest of the company

To this day, this is how they share things that don't belong to chat and involve a broader audience. This is how they stay aligned.

Automattic & P2

Along with chat, Automattic runs internal communication on P2. P2 is an internal network of blogs that are based on the P2 WordPress theme. At Automattic, every team, project or topic has a separate P2.

Any team, project, or topic update is a P2 entry. Automatticians share on P2 updates that don't belong to chat (because not ephemeral) and their field guide (because too transactional).

There are no secrets here. They talked a lot about why P2 is their secret internal alignment tool. If you're interested in more you should listen to the most recent Matt Mullenweg interview on Stratechery.

While working on Pulse I talked to lots of employees at Automattic. What struck me the most was how everyone agreed P2 entries were the best predictor for individual and team success. Your work is only as good as you communicate with others.

I only mentioned 2 of the most renowned examples, but others followed their lead. Zapier, Buffer, Sourcegraph, GitLab, and more. It's not surprising that most of these companies are distributed. It's also interesting how some of these practices are not just for 1000+ people companies.

Our Product

We designed Pulse to embody three precise principles of communication:

  • Permanence.
  • Search.
  • Reference.

Permanence – Everything you write in Pulse exists as a permanent, immutable record.

Search – If you can write something, you should be able to search and retrieve it. Search shouldn't be an afterthought.

Reference – Relations between chunks of information should be enhanced and connecting the dots should be more spontaneous. Teams need better ways to gauge perspective.

Here's how Pulse works:

Unified Feed

The Pulse Feed is the company firehose. A single, unified place where everyone can dip and out anytime. It's designed to let you absorb context, align with others, and know what's happening. No algorithms, no guessing, no ranking (for now). From the last to the most recent update.

The pulse feed is a single unified firehose for your company

The Pulse feed has a particular section on top, called Must Read. That section is for mission-critical things only. This will help you gain proximity for mission-critical information. But more on this soon.

Pulses

Edit experience for a pulse in Pulseasync.com

A pulse is a stateful unit of information. It can contain your last meeting minutes, a new strategy memo, a project update, or an internal product release note. We've designed this area to make the author brilliant at internal updates.

Streams

Product image with example of a product update stream in pulse.so

Streams collect pulses by teams, topics or projects. You can think of streams like internal publications. When you pulse something new, select a stream. For example @product-updates – everyone who's following it, will see your pulse.

Users can follow a stream to read updates about anything that's relevant to them. Whether it's their team (@engineering), a new company project (@spartacus-project) or a macro topic (@revenues).

Next Steps

This article is part of a short series to introduce Pulse in greater detail. If you're interested in reading more, leave your email at the top.

We're giving white gloves onboarding to all the companies who are signing up for Pulse now. Pulse comes at a fixed price of 99$/year for teams up to 15 users. For larger teams, the price is $10/user per month. We're offering custom pricing for larger enterprises.

If you're a Sametab customer who hasn't transitioned yet, you can send an email at migrate@pulse.so and we'll take care of that.