Dashboards and Collaboration

In response to Luke Barton's question from Rabbitsoft:

 "Do dashboards have a pivotal role in collaboration? How could a dashoard be executed on a WebOS platform where apps are optional?"

First, what I assume you mean by that:

  • Dashboard – "Dashboard is a term now being used generally to refer to a web-based technology page on which real time information is collated from various sources in the business."–Wikipedia
  • WebOS – A desktop environment and window manager implemented as a web application.
  • Application – a piece of computer software dedicated to a particular type of information or task.

To answer the first part of the question, I think dashboards can have a pivotal role in collaboration but that their usefulness extends beyond collaboration. A dashboard provides an overview of information about the business which is relevant to a particular user to allow them to keep their finger on the pulse of the business and be alerted to timely information. This includes (but is not limited to) information about what other members of the organisation are doing or saying and this is the dashboard's contribution to collaboration – allowing the user to keep a light touch on a large amount of information from a number of other users. If not carefully configured, a dashboard can also be a source of distractions for users which could actually reduce productivity, but if done well can enhance the flow of information within the organisation and keep members well informed.

To address the second part of the question, surely a platform without any apps at all is useless to the user? Therefore the apps aren't optional. Or maybe there are parts of the system which are not referred to as apps but which could be classed as apps by a wider definition. Even if there are not specifically any apps installed directly on the platform,  a "WebOS" can draw resources from third parties over the Internet. The dashboard might start off empty, but the user can fill it up with widgets for these external resources.

An example of what I'd call a web based dashboard is Google's personalised homepage, iGoogle. It's similar to Apple's dashboard in OS X, but with a slightly different UI. "Widgets" or "Gadgets" are arranged in a grid on the homepage and each widget gives an overview of the most relevant information from an external web application or resource. Other similar services exist such as Netvibes and there's even a W3C recommendation for "Widgets", though oddly their specification is not really applicable to a web-based implementation.

I think that a dashboard for a WebOS should therefore be implemented as a container for widgets which provide a short overview of information from an external application or resource. Examples might include recent changes to the company intranet or wiki, the most urgent tasks in a project, recent microblog entries by members of the organisation or today's agenda from the corporate calendar. Each widget could be described with a standard XML format and when rendered to the dashboard should aggregate data from an external resource via HTTP – be that from application on the platform itself or from elsewhere.

I actually think that a dashboard can be so useful that it could replace the "desktop" altogether! Widgets are much more meaningful and useful than simple icons and a dashboard makes a more useful homepage than a "desk top" covered in "wallpaper". A dashboard provides an interface which is centered on tasks and information rather than on applications. That's really a different topic which I would be happy to discuss elswhere.