The Department of Product


Thursday, 15 December, 2022

Google Sheets gets ML superpowers, a new app for focusing your workday, how to write tasks for usability testing, Instagram's new notes feature.

Thursday, 15 December, 2022
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Hello product people,

Amidst the buzz of AI startups, Google has quietly unveiled a potentially game changing AI feature to one of its core apps. Simple ML (machine learning) for Google Sheets  is a new add-on for the Excel alternative that uses machine learning to make predictions, spot abnormalities and find patterns in data sets. The new plugin is designed for every day users with no prior programming knowledge and has been developed in collaboration with researchers at the open sourced TensorFlow project.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is bolstering its own suite of apps with the announcement that its wildly popular Teams is coming to Outlook. Whilst many product teams balk at the idea of being forced to use Outlook and Teams, the company’s 270 million daily active users for Teams dwarves rivals such as Slack. The new integration will allow Outlook users to chat via Teams inside Outlook. There are also rumours that the company is working on a ‘super app’ for all your needs akin to China’s WeChat. According to reports from The Information, the app could combine shopping, messaging, workplace productivity and news feeds into one single space. Microsoft will be hoping it can capitalise on the recent troubles at the top of Slack to further cement its position as the market leader for Office comms. 

For the startups trying to topple Microsoft and Google, though, it’s been a tough week. Product favorite Airtable has announced a series of high profile layoffs at the company impacting around 250 employees including its chief product officer. A spokesperson said the company is continuing to see impressive growth in its enterprise market and that the layoffs were part of a strategic plan to double down its focus on this segment.

In industry news, the annual State of European Tech report was released last week. The report puts London as the top European hub by startup capital investment with $19 billion, followed by Paris at $9 billion and Berlin at $5 billion. The report also shows that investors are increasingly turning to more experienced founders with the majority of first time founders having over 10 years professional experience. You can check out the report in full here.

Finally, if you find yourself context switching during your work day, this new app is designed to help you navigate your workday with more focus and less stress.

Have a great break and we’ll be back in 2023!



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Your product briefing


UX Skills – How to write tasks for usability testing

To get the most out of a usability testing session, it’s important to plan what it is that you’d like to test. This often includes figuring out broad hypotheses with a user researcher (if you have one) and the specific tasks that allow you to test those hypotheses with actions. (Department of Product)


New product features – Instagram rolls out new Notes feature

Notes are short posts of up to 60 characters comprising text and/or emoji, which attach to the profile image of selected recipients. Instagram said that during testing, it discovered that people “liked having a lightweight, easy way to share what’s on their mind and start conversations.” (Digital Trends)


Tools – Magical – a new way to do meetings

Introducing AI-powered invitations. Share a single personalized link of your preferred availability. Automate agendas and select recommended time slots with our AI assistant. Sync with Notion to capture meeting notes. All accessible when you open a new tab. (Product Hunt)


New product launches – Github launches Copilot for businesses

First announced earlier in 2022 to personal users, students, and some maintainers of open source code projects, Copilot is designed to help make coding easier and more accessible with some clever AI and some not-so-clever theft controversies. Now, the Microsoft-owned service has been tweaked to deliver “flexible license management, organization-wide policy controls, and industry-leading privacy” to businesses at the cost of $19 per user per month. (Techradar)


Content discovery tools – Refind

Get smarter every day. Every day we pick 5 links from around the web that make you smarter, tailored to your interests. (Sponsored)


Twitter threads to digest

The product community shares advice to a new first time Director of Product on leadership


Newsletters worth reading – UX Tools

Practical lessons, resources, and news for the product design community, including the upcoming 2022 Design Tools Survey. (UX Tools)


Case Studies – How we approach A/B testing at LinkedIn

We are constantly striving to improve the experience on LinkedIn for our members and customers, with research and experimentation, such as A/B Testing, playing a key role in that work.  We are proud to have developed a culture at LinkedIn where research and experimentation is celebrated. Not only does this work help us stay innovative, it reminds us that everything we do is in service of our community, and is to create more economic opportunities for our members around the world. (LinkedIn Engineering Blog)


Process – How to switch your design team to Figma or any new tool

In this guide, I outline the steps to take your team from your current design tool to your new tool, where everyone is working proficiently and you’re unsubscribed from your old tool. (UX Design)


Research – How to supercharge user research using automation workflows

User research can be time- and resource-intensive, but there are ways to identify bottlenecks and create efficiencies in your process with scripts and automation solutions. (NN Group)


Other product news in brief

  • Twitter launches Blue for Business, grants gold checkmarks for corporate entities
  • Height launches end of year Rewind feature
  • Disney raises the price of ad-free Disney+ and launches $8 free tier
  • TikTok introduces a new horizontal full screen mode to take on YouTube
  • The first Matter enabled devices are now ready and shipping to customers
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Product Briefing – November 2, 2023

Google Slides’ superpowers, a Sublime second brain, Pinterest’s PMF
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Product Briefing – October 26, 2023

Discord monetization strategies, Slack ditches X, Spotify growth
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Product Briefing – October 19, 2023

Netflix’s $8 billion quarter, Figma in limbo, Synthetic UX research. Plus: YouTube’s major release, a new way to manage your calendar, the Web Technologies Report 2023

Product Briefing – October 5, 2023

Google Docs’ new competitor, AI wars, App industry benchmarks
Plus: Airbnb’s ML patent, DoorDash’s swipe for restaurants and Uber expands to returns

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