Collaborating On A List

Every business has this situation, some many times a day.

Over the weekend, our team at USV was discussing an event we are putting together and people we might invite. One of us started the thread and suggested a dozen or so names. Replies started going back and forth with new suggestions. Many great ideas came out quickly via email. Then we decided to put all the names into a google sheet, which was obviously the thing to do to memorialize the suggestions and comments.

But then the discussion stopped. No new names were generated. The discussion ended.

Google sheets does generate an email when a change is made to a sheet, but it is not conversational the way a group email thread or a Slack channel is.

I suggested that we write a script that allows us to have the conversation in Slack and new ideas are autopopulated to the Google sheet. We could also do that in email but Slack felt like the better option.

I’m curious if other folks out there have had this same experience and how they have solved it. You want to database the list in a tool like Google sheets, but doing that seems to shut down the conversation that flows in an experience like Slack or email. It seems like the two functions need to be merged in some way.

#email hacks#enterprise#management

Comments (Archived):

  1. Tom Limongello

    Why not just use Quip? It’s slack in reverse with conversation around docs and spreadsheets.

    1. William Mougayar

      it looks interesting.

    2. fredwilson

      i’ve tried it a bunch. i don’t love it for some reason

      1. Jess Bachman

        Same. I tried it. I use it. But i don’t like using it. Though I like using Gdocs less.

    3. Julian

      To be honest, it seems bloated to add another tool just for this functionality right? We kept running into the same difficulty as Fred in this regard; Google Drive works like magic but it’s not where we have our conversations like we do in Asana / Slack.Some documents are more valuable than others, but I think you always want to prevent a situation in which I think you’re in charge of making sure a document is “useable” and you think I’m in charge – leaving it hang in the middle.We noticed this situation a lot. The way we’ve currently “solved” this is by appointing a ‘document owner’ for EVERY document we collaborate on in Google Drive. This person is responsible for ensuring the document’s value to the company, which involves leading the discussion and making sure people keep contributing. We kinda stole this from Apple’s DRI system and it’s something you see in Holacracy as well. It makes it easier to say: “that document isn’t valuable, who is in charge of it and why isn’t it valuable?” which hopefully leads to fruitful discussions involving only the people who are part of the core of the problem.The other nice thing about databases is that when you add a field “Added By” you can measure exactly who contributes most and can reward them for that positive behaviour explicitly, insinuating to others in your team that they could do more to be good contributors as well.I have to add that due to my young age I haven’t had much experience with these social triggers yet; it’s mostly theory. However, I kept seeing a pattern of related solutions to problems around group contribution in both sociology, neurology and management theories, so for now we’re sticking to it. And in the past months we’ve been using it, it seems to work really well. Keen to learn more from people with more prolonged experience!

  2. LIAD

    possibly a IFTTT recipe is the way to go.scrap that. Slack can’t trigger can only receive.

  3. BillMcNeely

    Looking at to do these scripts for me

    1. fredwilson

      we frequently use zapier at USV to write scripts

  4. Joe Price

    Trello is great for things like this. In this case, each name would be a card. You could have lists for “Considering”, “Short List” (?) and “Selected”. Users can subscribe to the board to get notified on changes. Each name would have it’s own comment thread and audit trail

  5. William Mougayar

    How about good old Hackpad?

    1. JamesHRH

      pen & paper even?

  6. migdesigner

    Why not use the “Comments thread” functionality that’s already part of Google sheets?

    1. fredwilson

      where does that conversation end up? in google sheets, in email, in slack?

      1. migdesigner

        In the sheet itself as threads and via email if enabled, I believe.

      2. migdesigner

        but if it’s a Slack integration specifically USV team would ideally like, this seems to be possible with this:

      3. ShanaC

        email and the sheet itself

    2. JimHirshfield

      Comments? No one comments any more.

  7. JimHirshfield

    Over the weekend, our team at USV was discussing an event we are putting together and people we might invite. One of us started the thread and suggested a dozen or so names.Ugh, tell me about it. This happens ALL the time!1. Jim Hirshfield2. Jim Hirshfield3. Jim Hirshfield4. Jim Hirshfield5. Jim Hirshfield6. Jim Hirshfield7. Jim Hirshfield8. Jim Hirshfield9. Jim Hirshfield10. Jim Hirshfield11. Jim Hirshfield12. Jim Hirshfield

    1. Rohan

      On fire these days…I did think you’d put my name somewhere in there though!

    2. Chris Phenner


      1. JimHirshfield


  8. Mike Slagh is for list collaboration and has nice mac and phone appsAgree this is a hole in the market though. Google sheets is what I use but only when all collabs can be “in the module” at the same time

  9. Jaikant Kumaran

    The list is the output of collaboration. To collaborate on a list does not feel natural. It is like forcing the output.

  10. Joe Lazarus

    This is an issue not only for lists, but for nearly any type of shared document. The documents themselves lack discussion and the ability to quickly hash things out as a group like you can do in email or messaging. Meanwhile, email and messaging lack the structured context that the shared document provides. Quip, Trello and others are trying to bridge content / documents vs conversation / collaboration, but no one has really solved it.

    1. fredwilson

      that’s my take as welli think we will hack something up that bridges slack and sheets

      1. Twain Twain

        Will AVC open source it on Github, thanks!

    2. TMail21

      @Joe,This is exactly what TMail21 enables. However, TMail21 is thread-first rather than document-first. Threads can have zero or more pieces of content associated with them. Think of these pieces of content as updateable, versioned attachments that are synchronized with the discussion. The current types of content are Text, Grid, Form and File. Either Grid (a spreadsheet like piece of content) or Text could be used for Lists.The main distinction between (say) Google docs and Quip on the one hand and TMail21 on the other hand is that the former are document-first. You start with a document and collaborate on it including comments. Also, the comments (especially with Google docs) are NOT synchronized with the changes to the document.TMail21 on the other hand is Thread-first (or Conversation-centric). You start with a thread and as the thread evolves you can update one or more pieces of content in a particular comment.A key concept in a thread-first approach is the concept of a ‘Changeset’. Basically in a single Changset, the user can add a comment to the thread, and insert, update or delete one or more pieces of content in a single atomic change. This allows the thread to proceed from one meaningful state to the next. Additionally the user can see the ‘diff’ between any two Changesets.As an example, imagine a Thread regarding a Sales Cycle. This may have multiple pieces of content including a List of Competitors, a Pricing Section (Spreadsheet), an RFP, an RFQ, the Demo Script etc. etc.Now, the users can add comments to this Sales Cycle thread. But in any comment or changeset they could also update (say) the Pricing, Demo Script and Competitor List due to (say) the emergence of a new competitor into the Sales Cycle.Of course, collaborating on a single list in a conversational manner like the main article discusses in is a subset of this.TMail21 is really geared towards asynchronous communication. It is fully integrated with Slack (with a Slack App) which is great for synchronous communication. It is also fully integrated with emailIf you are interested you can learn more at Ranjit NotaniCEO, TMail21Also, some relevant blog articles on this…

  11. Jess Bachman

    We use trello. We have multiple columns that are just lists of stuff. There is ongoing discussion in these lists, on a per-item basis. Works well.

    1. awaldstein

      I like this. thanks

    2. Susan Rubinsky

      very cool. thanks for sharing.

      1. Jess Bachman

        Here is a recent list of names for a feature. Trello lists are easy to re-arrange as well, unlike a spreadsheet.

    3. K_Berger

      If I understand you correctly, you have a conversation in each card about the card (item). If you want to have a discussion about the list as a whole, would that be a separate card for the discussion itself (maybe at the top of the list)?

      1. Jess Bachman

        You got it.

        1. K_Berger

          Does that work? It still means getting out of the conversation card and creating a new card separately. And it is even more effort if using email for the conversation. You can email cards to Trello too, but it still isn’t fully automated from the conversation itself.

          1. Jess Bachman

            Email is not in my teams work flow so I’m not sure about that.I work with Slack (temporary) to Trello (semi permanent) to Quip (permanent). If a list still requires lots of synchronous chat, as in, “should we even have this list” that happens in Slack, once it in Trello it is assumed that the convo about the list is mostly over and should instead move to the list item. If the list is finished and needs to be codified, it goes to Quip, and is removed from trello.

          2. creative group

            Jess Bachman:getting to this late.We tried Trello and it works great when the team actaully participates in the keeping the board active. If not the entire board will go to waste. Especially after upgrading.

          3. Jess Bachman

            Absolutely. Nothing will work if the team doesn’t participate. I’ve been through a bunch of teams that have tried a bunch of things. Trello seems to stick better than most anything, except slack.

          4. Jess Bachman

            I also keep list columns on active boards. I try to keep a low number of boards with high activity before another board needs to be created. Don’t want to move the coals to another fire too early.

    4. kevando

      Yeah trello voting is pretty spot on.

    5. Twain Twain

      LOVE Trello and prefer it to Slack. Fantastic for project mgmt. All it needs is time lining functionality …

  12. jason wright

    how did you do it in earlier times?

  13. Ty Witmer

    We use a product named for this sort of thing. It allows you to establish a list then everyone can collaborate on the list. The comments you see are only from those you are connected with. You can create any type of custom form or add any custom field to a form. You can also forward e-mails to the system then link the e-mail to any record.

  14. Jay Lohmann generates alerts based on participation. The UI is simple. The UX is fast and efficient. Great tool for collaborating on lists.

  15. falicon

    I built a tool for Charlie O. back when he was at 1st round related to this ( called it whotoget )…but this was awhile back and honestly not that great. These days a slack bot/plugin feels like the right approach (but getting the user flow just right would still be non-trivial).

  16. Sandi Lin

    You can do this via Zapier. Filter or star the message in Slack to have it populate to Google Sheets.…We do this internally to see what food trucks are in our area based on their Twitter feeds:…We also find Dropbox’s web commenting feature to be helpful. People can collaborate on the document via regular Dropbox. On the web UI, the comments are visible on the right hand side.

    1. fredwilson

      this seems like a good option for us as we already use zapier for a lot at USVthanks!

    2. BillMcNeely

      Hey Sandi,I heard about Zapier on #TWiST . Do you know of anyone that can work through a documented process and turn that into a series of scripts in order to streamline it?

  17. kevando

    I see Reddit solving your problem. This isn’t a list, so much as a bunch of people posting content and everyone else voting on that content. We use our private company subreddit to accomplish this.

  18. Pablo Osinaga

    Perhaps there is a pseudo-format in slack comments that can be autodetected by a bot which would sync it into a google sheet. I need this too for my whatsapp groups. E.g., organizing a soccer game on sunday with friend, and asking “who is in?” and then people go 1. Pablo, 2. Fred, etc. and they just keep replyig. It feels like some sort of “standard” way of indicating in the message itself that this should go into “the list being generated” is the way to go. We should try it to see if it feels right.

    1. Pablo Osinaga

      BTW, who is in for trying this in a whatsapp group?1. Pablo:)

  19. LE

    Every business has this situation, some many times a day.I suggested that we write a script that allows us toExactly. Yes.I will say the same thing that I have said before. What I do. Write (or get someone to) write a custom solution for this situation. If it’s something that can improve the efficiency of your business, then it pays to create a solution to fit your exact needs. You don’t need to create a commercially viable product that can be used by millions. Just something that you can use internally.That’s what I do and I am not any whiz bang programmer. Just someone who knows enough to hack things like this together and has been doing so a long long time. Extremely valuable (and why it pays to know how to program even in a small way). Oh yeah and it’s fun to do this type of thing.

  20. awaldstein

    Great topic. New complex, people all over project and it’s honestly a mess to get the pieces together coherently.Be interesting is at the end of this thread there is some sort of aggregating of choices if you don’t have time to plow through the comments, which unfortunately I don’t any longer.

  21. pointsnfigures

    try to plan the event. Here is the about page: they allow you to manage a guest list. Yes, I am an investor so I am pimping. But, they solve problems like this and make events effortless in major cities around the US. They are expanding.

    1. Vasudev Ram

      Interesting, just visited their about page. I remembered a startup from some time before, which I had signed up for and tried out a bit, with similar or same name. But IIRC they were into APIs or web services or something like that. Is this the same one, and did they pivot?Update: Just checked my email, that company name was kapowtech and the site was openkapow. So maybe not the same.

      1. pointsnfigures

        Original name was, but now it’s just Give it a try. Pretty amazing technology for choosing, organizing, inviting and hosting an event. If you are a techie, you would like the other things they do too

        1. Vasudev Ram

          Will check it, thanks.

  22. Heather Redman

    Great idea. I am a huge believer in making meaningful connections and building a list for an event is one of the highest value collaborative activities (and most painful and most neglected) an org engages in.

  23. Adam Lemmon

    I’ve experienced the problem that’s detailed in this post a LOT. Thanks to everyone who posted some various technology solutions in the comments here. Everyone’s comments have me thinking.Random thought: My team has recently had some really positive experiences with switching up how we do collaborative work: replacing open brainstorming with some experiments in “Brainwriting” (see video in this article post):… ) The 2 key elements that seem to have been very helpful for my team are:1) We are experimenting with the idea that we need to FORCE quick work on idea generation. So we give ourselves a very small amount of time (no more than 30 min) to go off on our own and generate our own lists. Not impeded or influenced by others — just sitting with your own noise and forcing yourself to quickly get all of your ideas in front of you.2) We then ask everyone to put all of their ideas into a shared google doc — ONE LIST that includes everyone’s ideas. Since the google doc is more of a result AFTER everyone has finished purging their thoughts and ideas on their own, it results in us having a more robust list of ideas because the flow didn’t get busted up during the creation process (not sure if I’m describing it very well(?))The results haven’t been perfect. More experimentation required. But I will say that our idea generation sessions have been upgraded thanks to this idea of “Brainwriting” — thought I’d share.

  24. bfeld

    Process stifled all creativity …

    1. Jess Bachman

      You need that yin and yang tho.

    2. JamesHRH

      The answer to Fred’s question is pen and paper. Great tools for rapidly capturing information without establishing a process. Whiteboards are an awesome technology for this problem too!;-)

  25. Chris Phenner

    Feels like a future feature for a service like (sorry, Amy).’s ability to ‘do scheduling’ strikes me as far more complicated than capturing data into a structured spot.I’d also check IFTTT and Zapier for recipes that may have been written already.

    1. BillMcNeely

      Do you know of someone that will map out a whole process for you and assign scripts to it?

      1. Chris Phenner

        I don’t. I’d check out Zapier or Google ‘Custom Zapier Scripts’ (or similar phrase); I’ll bet there’s a whole cottage industry of folks who can do this work on marketplace sites like Fiverr / TaskRabbit / elsewhere (my conjecture).

  26. markbarrington

    Email is such a bloody awful data silo. Every day we copy in and out of it to do list items, feature requests, results of threaded conversations, schedule updates.When everybody gets done with recognizing cats in videos maybe they could work on making our desktops smarter next.

  27. sigmaalgebra

    Gee, consider using just English as simple, old ASCII characters in simple files of text. People have been communicating with a written natural language since clay tablets. If someone has a good thought, then they should be able to express it clearly and accurately in just English text. Gee, we’re back to the 3Rs, right? I see no role for Google here. E-mail with a distribution list — sure. A blog, fine.

  28. Alan Warms

    Fred – We launched something on participate learning which is pretty relevant here. There are about 50-100 hashtag edtech chats of one sort or another on Twitter each day. If we set up the hashtag for your chat (soon to be self-service), you can go into the chat via our platform ( and with one click create a transcript or collection of resources that can then be edited, moved around, collaborated on, annotated made private, shared, etc. A resource for us is any link included in the tweet – we then hit the app store or youtube or the website and grab whatever tags, data, etc. are available. Obviously couldn’t be private for now as on Twitter, although that is coming, but educators use it because they can capture automatically, reuse, remix, etc. results of their conversations. Similar though not exact use case.

  29. switchedOn, Inc.

    @fredwilson:disqus – This is exactly what we’re trying to solve, along with a contextual runtime for professional messaging. Maybe we’re the anti-Slack, if you will. The goal is not replacing any of your current tools, but offering a metadata layer to bind conversations into meaningful context (including email!).We’d love some beta teams to try it out in May/June this year.BTW, I’m loving this blog everyday for 5 minutes.

  30. laurie kalmanson

    when my kid and her friends started using google apps at school, they fooled the teachers for a minute by using the comments to have conversations

  31. Adam Berkan

    This was one of the best uses for Google Buzz. It was a hybrid of a living document and a conversation. Sadly this was one of the few compelling use cases.

  32. Alberto Escarlate

    That’s exactly what Filechat does. Add a conversation on top of Google Drive or Dropbox files.

  33. vaughn tan

    i like hackpad for generating lists both in real-time and asynchronously. it batches changes and notifies people following a pad periodically, and there’s a way to trigger a specific mention of a person—both help just enough with asynchronous contributions.

    1. Lightning Bolt

      Hackpad is great, but much of that functionality (and more) is in Dropbox Paper. I use that all the time for collaboration at work on lists (e.g. tasks and next steps in project planning). I also use it in my personal life to create shared lists of activities or plan trips.As Vaughn mentioned, commenting is built in and you can reply to comments via email. Email notifications are also generated when content is modified if you’re subscribed to the document, so you won’t miss anything.Also, doesn’t Christina (former USV) work on Dropbox Paper?Scripts seems like overkill and a source if unnecessary maintenance.

      1. vaughn tan

        i’ve been looking forward to dropbox paper going GA. i hope the hackpad team is involved, since they were bought by dropbox.

  34. Eddie Rendini

    Airtable is the best database with conversation tool that I know of. I like the Trello suggestions in this thread, but Airtable may be a more native solution to Fred’s problem.

  35. ShanaC

    I think you are trying to solve a people problem with technology. Spreadsheets are “heads down work mode” for many people unless they get stuck, are checking up with progress, or are finished and discussing the finished product, which is why it seems like the discussion ends as soon as people go into a spreadsheet.Their minds change.You eithera) need to get the spreadsheet autopopulated from slack/email so that the people involved can’t switch mental modes easily and shut down into “heads down into work.” You have to make sure it is well scripted, and that however your script works, the trigger also doesn’t accidentally trigger the “heads down” behavior.orb) change how discussions are run into something akin to standups (from agile project management), where one person gets to control the spreadsheet until the end as a point person, allowing everyone else to free flow from there, and then said point person allows the spreadsheet to be shared for a final check through. There is a question of how is that person also going to participate outside of being point

  36. Michal Wlodarski

    We usually work with a Google Doc. It has comments working very well. Unless you are pasting full information about each name when suggesting them, someone will have to gather all lacking information into a spreadsheet anyway.

  37. Kevin Gauthier did something similar pushing from Slack to Trello. Using a similar approach you could build a Slack to Google Sheet plugin. Let me know if you do.More details here:

  38. Postscapes

    +1 for Airtable — Has the ability to see history, add front facing forms and then create different “views” into the list so you can turn list into action items

  39. kidehen

    You can make a list using nanotation wherever text is accepted, using RDF Language sentences.Assuming disqus doesn’t tag this as spam, it can actually happen as part of a discussion thread. Anticipating that the spam bots will kick-in I’ve also created a post on Medium [1].{## About this document <#this>a schema:WebPage ;schema:name “How to make a list” ;schema:about <#BasicList> ;schema:description “““A post that demonstrates creation of simple lists that can be extended collaboratively, using nanotation. This was inspired by lazy-web style callout via a post on Disqus by Fred Wilson.Fundamentally, this post is a structured data source constructed using subject->predicate->object based sentences that are both human- and machine-readable.Each sentence component is a hyperlink functioning as noun (subject), verb (predicate), noun (object). Also note the use of [] which functions as an indefinite pronoun. ”””;schema:mentions <http:”” 2016=”” 03=”” collaborating-on-a-list=”” #this=””>,<http:”” about=”” #this=””>, [ schema:mainEntityOfPage <http:”” 2014=”” 07=”” nanotation.html#this=””> ] .# About the Event Attendee List it describes<#SomeEvent>a schema:Event ;schema:name “Some Event” ;schema:attendee <https:“” about=”” brad-burnham#this=””>, <https:“” about=”” fred-wilson#this=””>, <https:“” about=”” albert-wenger#this=””> .<https:“” about=”” fred-wilson#this=””>a schema:Person ;schema:name “Fred Wilson” ;# Identifier referent equivalence i.e., these are other names for the same entityowl:sameAs <http:”” about=”” #this=””>, <https:”” fredwilson#this=””> ;# Identify Verification i.e., these documents identifty this personschema:sameAs <http:”” about=””/>, <https:”” fredwilson=””/>, <https:“” about=”” fred-wilson=””/> .}[1]… — Medium post based replica.

  40. Benji Rogers

    Have you tried – we used this to surface favorites last year. I like that you can do it publicly as well.