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At the beginning of June 2011, the majority of the @design team got together for a new project to simplify Twitter. Our leaders had already spent a good amount of time on thinking through what that meant, and it boiled down to three core ideas: home, @, and #. It was our job to make that vision a reality.

Six months later, we launched #NewNewTwitter. It was a beautiful and challenging simplification of the entire system, and it was by no means a perfect success. It took months of work after the initial launch to get things right across the board. The challenges of upending an entire product were imposing and daunting. Everyone involved learned a great deal about designing a product, collaborating with multiple teams, presenting designs, and much more. It was a worthy endeavor in every respect.

I recall this experience because nearly all of the work that went into building #NewNewTwitter happened in the smallest of conference rooms over only a few months. Everyone contributing to the project was in our war room or on the surrounding office space (save one engineer who worked on the East Coast). The ability to get on the spot feedback, sketch and whiteboard ideas, and at times work on the same screen was critical. I firmly believe this level of meatspace interaction was absolutely essential to the project’s success.

Working in the same physical space isn’t a requirement that every company need enforce, but like so many other practices in our industry, it has a time and a place. Sure, much of our work could have happened with a distributed team, but the tools to enable that are far from perfect. Neither is working side-by-side for that matter, but when we needed to make the impossible happen, it sure helped.

Today I work at the poster child for distributed teams. It’s awesome, and I love the freedom and benefits of our setup. But if GitHub were ever to undertake a complete rethinking of their product like #NewNewTwitter, I’d push hard to get all involved in the same physical space for a good chunk of the project.

I’m stoked to see Yahoo battening down the hatches and working to make stuff happen. I love that passionate people are making concerted efforts to make it a better company with better products. There will be bumps along the way, and the industry will respond with zeal and misplaced agression, but they need to figure their shit out and only they can do that.

I wish them all the best and I’m stupid excited to see what they can do.


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