When software changes our minds.

It's a strange time to be a file. They've never gone away—every app you touch is built on hundreds of them. But SaaS has abstracted files away until they're merely a relic in many business apps.

We had software, and files we'd created in that software. We'd do work in software, save it, and have a virtual hard copy of our work, a widget we could put on a floppy or flash drive, or email to a colleague.

Then the save button went away, as apps like Google Docs automatically saved every change to the cloud. Then the files stayed in the apps. You open Google Docs to find your work, instead of first finding a file them opening it in Google Docs.

It forced a mindset change. Now there wasn't a digital thing to save and send around. Instead, there was work inside an app, and you'd share the content inside the app, inviting others to work alongside you.

Collaborative apps may have never taken off if software hadn't first killed the save button. Old habits die hard. Software sometimes has to break them to push us forward.

That's what killed the email attachment, more than Dropbox. Dropbox let us improve the old workflow of emailing files around. Google Docs replaced the old workflow, removing our old default of saving files then sharing them, and instead pushed us to share Google Docs itself. And now that's how we expect today's best business software to work, where everything from Airtable to Figma to Notion pushes us to share our work in the app, instead of sharing files themselves.

Positional software forces us to change our mindset, rework our workflows.

Hey email inbox zeroish

Take Basecamp's new email app Hey shows up this year, and killed the archive. A couple decades after Gmail taught us email storage was essentially infinite and that we should archive emails for later, Hey went back to delete-only. I'm so used to Inbox Zero that at first, I felt like I needed to delete everything—which didn't seem a great idea.

Then I realized Hey, rather than killing the Archive, was killing Inbox Zero. You read through your emails, then they show up in your Previously Seen list. You can just let that list grow forever, reminding you at a glance of your most recent messages.

Maybe it'll stick; maybe not. But it's interesting how it challenged the way email has always worked, how it didn't take the idea of Inbox Zero as necessary. And by forcing us to work different, it has a chance to change the way we think about that work.

Zoom did something similar that made it so popular. Where other video call apps forced you to add contacts first and then call them, or to schedule a meeting and send out invites, Zoom took the Google Docs route and gave you just a link. Send that link to anyone, and they could join the call, zero other steps required.

Zoom's video quality really does tend to hold up better compared to everything else I've tried. But the thing that made it spread so quickly was how it rethought meetings, how a simple share link was enough to start a call. And now that's the new standard; even Skype lets you invite people to a group call with just a link.

Calendly did the same with meeting invites. Google Calendar still emails actual .ical files as meeting invites, leaving you to email back and forth over the best time (much like you'd formerly emailed Word files back and forth before Google Docs). Calendly turned that into picking the times you're free, killing one more file in the process.

Perhaps that's where tomorrow's best SaaS startup ideas lie, in the old tech workflows that haven't been reconsidered in decades.

What's the next legacy tech workflow that needs reinvented?


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