This week has brought the preview beta of Watson Workspace and Watson Work Services, what was previously called Toscana. These are very early days, without a doubt. Some are disappointed at the progress since the announcement at IBM Connect in February (seem screenshots can be seen here). The majority of features users take for granted in comparative products like Slack and Skype (e.g. direct messages, @mention alerts, favourites) still missing.
But there has clearly been a lot of work undertaken to build for the future, and to be ready for that as soon as possible. The book “The New Kingmakers” highlights how developers shape the success of a platform and how within two years of Apple allowing third-party apps on the iPhone they had marketed the phrase “there’s an app for that”. Similarly, the success of Twitter owes a lot to the openness and power of the API in the early days, which brought a plethora of Twitter clients and has driven interaction from numerous other applications. I doubt many people access Twitter through it’s native client. Similarly most Twitter users have at least one application that is allowed to post to or read from Twitter. The same is true of Facebook.
If a product wants to succeed, it needs to allow interaction through read/write APIs. This is where a large amount of work has clearly already been done.
There is already an API that allows you to build an app to receive notifications of events or act on Watson Workspace spaces. And there is documentation available already for that, via REST and GraphQL APIs (more on GraphQL in a future post, because it deserves one of its own).
There will be open source examples available to show how things can be done. But there are already two public apps that can be added.
The first is Slack. That may seem strange, but makes a lot more sense in the context of this sentence from the press release:
IBM Watson Workspace learns how an individual works and interacts, and consolidates multiple work conversations from various communications channels into a single space.
The strength of Twitter clients like Hootsuite is they interact not only with Twitter feeds but also Facebook and IBM Connections. A single chat client that consolidates content from many others starts to add real power, especially with Moments, Watson-driven intelligence that aggregates key sections to get you up-to-date quickly.
But it also allows what I’ll call “Bring Your Own Chat Client”. It follows on from what’s been happening with Domino mail, where you can now “Bring Your Own Email Client” – Notes, iNotes, Verse, Outlook, etc. This app integration allows users to chat from Watson Workplace with colleagues who are using Slack, and vice versa. The screenshots at the bottom show that (you can tell which is which, because the messages show coming from the other application, but then with the person originating the message as a prefix to the message itself). It’s already proved useful for some users who have complex scenarios with their IBM IDs and have had trouble accepting invitations.
The other public app available for integration is IFTTT. For those not aware of this (I wasn’t until this week), it stands for “If This Then That” and allows you to build “recipes” so that if something happens then the recipe will do something else, usually between two different applications, e.g. Twitter and Watson Workspace. That’s one of the recipes I’ve set up, to send through @mentions about me from Twitter, as seen in the screenshot below. There are eight recipes currently set up (thanks Luis Benitez), and I’m sure that number will expand. The only limitation at the moment is that IFTTT messages passed to Workspace are not passed onto Slack fully, as you can see from the screenshots.
This is only a beginning, but it’s a refreshing difference to the approach with Verse, where we’re still waiting for access to the extensibility planned since IBM ConnectED 2015. I am sure there will also be a number of developers embracing it. It certainly looks that way, and I have set up a Watson Workspace space for anyone wanting to discuss app development with Watson Work Services. Let me know on Twitter or anywhere else if you want to be added.