How we spent 2021 and what we plan for 2022

2021 was tough, a bit crazy, but a highly fascinating year. It was full of new learnings, the ups and downs brought on by COVID, closures, research, interviews, new ideas and hard work. We went through rounds of product conceptualisations and started to build our waitlist. Proof of concepts and lots of design and development. We also launched our Twitter presence.

This year, we started with a rough web prototype that could only open web pages, scan for links, and open them in a dual-pane layout.

Able's initial dual-pane experience

And the experience was excellent. It felt somewhat different from a regular browser, allowing the user to stay in context and easily get back to the website of origin when needed. It felt like no other tool, and the experience felt natural.

But it felt…incomplete. Something was missing.

When we studied the process in greater detail, it wasn’t quite so linear. And it did not start with a link in all cases. Sometimes it began with a question, a knowledge gap. We dove into research. We've read about 200 academic papers and conducted several kinds of research and several rounds of interviews until we developed a higher-level concept of the product.

We've spent some time trying to find how to position the product in the market and how to name it. We ended up with ABLE - a single tool that integrates web searches, browsing, knowledge management, and note-taking. But this vague positioning was not as precise as we wanted it to be, and we understood that because of the integrated experience, which did not exist before, ABLE’s essence is hard to explain. And we will have to build it and give it to people to try first to gauge user response.

We built prototypes, then we modified these prototypes, and then we built some more prototypes…over 500 prototypes. (And it was such a mess there that @Carina had to instil a sense of order.) This took about 6 months of research.

In August we went on to build a Proof of Concept. And in September, it was ready for us to try it out. We felt that we were on to something.

Along the way, we had the privilege of meeting and talking with Andy Matuschak, Christina Wodtke and other exceptional people. They contributed a lot to our progress and understanding. In October, we started to iterate and build it and promised to release an early version in the last quarter of that crazy year 2021. We promised, but we missed it.

The fundamental parts of the experience did not align so well. One of our challenges was to remove the tabs from the browsing process. And there are some ways to do that, but it significantly hurts the possible use cases for the product and makes the experience much harder, dramatically changing users' web behavior. And it creates enormous risks for product adoption. So we decided to keep the tabs for now and take more time to learn and find better ways of improving the browsing experience.

We found ourselves back in the prototype phase again and again in search of the best way to integrate the usually divorced personal knowledge base functionality with web browsing and web search and streamline the unified experience.

And that is what we're focused on right now: building the basic functionality of the knowledge base and creating the smooth flowing experience of using the knowledge base and web browsing in a single interface within the product. The goal is to start testing it with users in the first or second quarter of 2022.

We're sorry to make you wait longer than we initially promised. Still, we want to make sure we deliver the right working experience for you to feel and appreciate the value that ABLE creates.

What do we see for the future?

The possibility of on-pc personalisation of web searches, intelligent knowledge enrichment from the web to knowledge base and vice versa, smart information capturing and making knowledge base maintenance efforts obsolete. This new reality would allow you to concentrate your efforts on what matters most - your ideas, thoughts, and knowledge. But most of all — making all this so productive that it'll feel like magic.

We hope you have enjoyed reading this article. Feel free to share, recommend and connect 🙏

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Straight from the ABLE team: how we work and what we build. Thoughts, learnings, notes, experiences and what really matters.

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