Big Boards and the Rise of Massive Office Screens
BY RYAN TATE 03.29.13 6:30 AM
Etsy, an e-commerce network for makers of handcrafted goods, has big boards throughout its office, with different analytics provided to the operations, customer support and, soon, recruiting teams. Etsy tracks clickstreams, site availability, purchase activity and user and member growth on the boards, among other metrics. Etsy has so many dashboards it’s experimenting with more energy-efficient computing devices to lower the screens’ carbon footprint. “We watch these and many other metrics like hawks,” CEO Chad Dickerson wrote on the company blog.
Photo: Zhi-Da Zhong/Etsy
Thanks to the proliferation of smartphones and tablets, mobile computing has become the tech industry’s predominant obsession. But alongside the very visible ascendancy of small screens has been a parallel, if quieter, demand for quite big ones.
At tech companies large and small, big wall-mounted displays showing statistics and other live data have become shared reference points, digital campfires that can focus a group of employees on common goals. Some show web traffic, others customer support queues, product development progress or the leaderboard in the pingpong rankings, but all capitalize on the falling prices of big flat-panel televisions and the growing ease of funneling live information into those screens.
At a time when team members are pulled apart by web distractions, work-from-home allowances and endlessly buzzing smartphones, these big office boards are a way to get everyone on the same page again. As an added benefit, they help impart a feeling of importance to companies working on low-stakes problems, like smartphone social mashups and tablet-based news aggregation. Suddenly, programmers working on 99-cent iPhone games feel like they’re working in a NASA or Strategic Air Command situation room.
“It’s just awesome to see data on a wall — it makes everything feel automatically more important,” says Cabel Sasser, co-founder of Portland, Oregon-based app maker Panic.
While many big boards are driven by custom code, software makers are beginning to offer tools targeting big screens. Panic is close to releasing an iPad app called Status Board that makes it easy to create an office dashboard and beam it to a television.Geckoboard is a pay-by-the-month web app that helps businesses project sales and social media data onto a big screen. Social media monitoring company HootSuite offers the HootSuite Command Center, which can send visualizations of Facebook and Twitter interactions to “the command bridge of your company’s USS Enterprise.”
Some big board software is offered as a free adjunct to other internet services. Chartbeat, which sells second-by-second web traffic monitoring, gives away software called simply “Big Board” for displaying slices of that data on large screens. As I was writing this story, Shopify released big board software called Dashing.
The “big board” market is still young, at least outside of space, defense and public safety agencies. To understanding how it’s evolving in tech, here’s a look at how 10 different companies use big boards. Click through the images in the gallery above for the full tour.