Thoughts spawned by trying out Trello

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Today I tried out an online task management/collaboration system called Trello. I had read about Trello before, in an interview with Fog Creek Software CEO Joel Spolsky. It looks really nice, visual and flexible. I was curious as to whether it would meet the needs of a few of us at work, not always on-site at the same time, working together to get a piece of equipment up and running.

I took my Android device into the lab to get down a few tasks and notes. I created some “cards” in the very pleasant Trello Android app, and then tried to edit one to add some details. Trello didn’t allow me to open it because, the lab being just out of wifi range, this card had not been “synced”. I immediately understood that Trello isn’t useful to me in its current state. I’m still curious as to whether the overall system is well-designed, and whether it suits me, but the need for constant access to the net stops the show for me.

I see the cloud becoming more and more ubiquitous, and there are already those who don’t see a whole lot of difference between the complaints “I can’t see my data when I’m offline” and “I can’t see my data without providing electric power to my computer/tablet/phone.” However, leaving aside issues of control over our data, there are still those of us without uninterrupted net access.

In fact, if Trello’s creators are banking on massive adoption of a free version making it possible to charge a small percentage of users for some kind of version control, I think they are making a mistake: being unable to even read existing cards in their latest known state while offline is going to be an impediment to adoption by casual users. I may be wrong; it will be interesting to see.

Version control in a fast-paced collaborative environment is an interesting challenge and I bet some bright minds are trying to bring solutions to current apps, like Trello, in a way that’s as close as possible to being invisible, or at least “frictionless” to non-technical users.