I met Gentry Underwood last week at the Social Intranets Summit in Vancouver, and took some time later on to take a first look at Orchestra, the task management tool from the company of the same name that he founded. Orchestra is styled ‘The to-do list that’s connected to everyone’, which doesn’t capture its value proposition perfectly, but pretty well, since Orchestra is so well integrated to email.
Orchestra is a task management tool: the only objects that can be created and shared are tasks, so it doesn’t quite stretch into the work media category. However, with just a small bit of additional effort — like supporting the notion of an activity stream, and plain vanilla text posts — Orchestra could compete with project-oriented work media tools like Yammer, Wrike and Huddle.
The app is very elegant looking, grouping tasks into ‘today’ ‘soon’ and ‘someday’ ranges:
The left column shows the various ‘lists’ — projects — that I created. ‘Work’ is selected, and two of the three tasks in that list are assigned to me, hence the number two. I assigned one task, ‘Write up Orchestra’, to my alter ego firstname.lastname@example.org.
I selected the ‘Bring tickets monday to Ignite’ task, and you can see the task information to the right. This task was created by forwarding an email to email@example.com.
The text of the email is shown in the stream of status updates, along with other state changes. The email isn’t accessible directly, and there is no mechanism to create arbitrary emails from the tool. But it does send emails to those associated with the triggering emails, as a general rule.
The task name was taken from the first line of the email, which I wrote as this:
Bring tickets monday to Ignite !shhh
The ‘!shhh’ microsyntax tells Orchestra not to update the others who might be included on the from:, to:, and cc: lines of the email when the task is updated. Otherwise Orchestra assumes that those people should be notified a/ when the task has been set up, and b/ whenever the task state changes, such as someone completing it or commenting on it. That general rule makes it very simple to share Orchestra tasks with others if they are external users, and if they have accounts they will see the updates on the web or iPhone clients.
And there is a variety of other microsyntax in the triggering email:
Bring tickets monday to #Ignite — would add the task to the Ignite list
Bring tickets !today to Ignite — would timestamp the task for today
In that other task, ‘Write up Orchestra’, the other user does not have an Orchestra account, but can participate through email:
And when the external user agrees to take on the task by clicking on that box, that updates the status on the task, and brings the external user to a page showing the comments and other status updates on the task:
Turns out my comment in the image above was wrong. I did not need an account to fully participate on that one task, and Orchestrate did not give me visibility to other tasks in the project, just the one I was asked to take on. That is a very interesting way to involve outsiders in complex and perhaps confidential projects.
Above is that same task viewed on the iPhone, where Orchestra has obviously invested a great deal of effort getting the form factor right.
Orchestrate is a stylish, well-designed and email-oriented task manager. AS I said, just a small investment of time would push it squarely in the work media category, which it clearly wants to be in. In fact, merely adding a comment thread to each list would be enough.
The viability of task manager apps on the iPhone platform is very much up in the air, given what Apple will be providing in the iOS 5 Notifications, in just a few weeks, especially in concert with Assistant. Still Orchestra is a solid start, and headed in a good direction.