Need more Space to collaborate? JetBrains looks to hook you up

JetBrains Space

A good year after first introducing team collaboration tool Space, JetBrains has this week pushed the service into general availability. Space Business Development Manager Mikhail Vink sat down with DevClass to share some insight about how it came about, who might find it useful, and to take a look at what’s next.

Space advertises itself as an integrated team environment for software development, management, and communications, which supposedly combines tools from all teams into one interface to make all sorts of information more widely available. It also aims at reducing distractions, and provides collaboration tooling.

The origin story is similar to that of most of the company’s products, as in it came  about to solve an internal problem, which  later turned out to be more of a general one. In the case of Space, the growing number of JetBrains employees made it necessary to find a way to get an overview of different sites and team member availability. 

So they started with something called team directory, which is now an integral part of Space, and supports company management and absence handling. “And then we thought: OK, we have Git hosting here, we have a team directory here, and we use Slack for communications. But it would be a really nice approach to unify a lot of the things we’re working on in a single tool.”

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What followed was, according to Vink, the digitalisation of their internal processes, which made things like planning time off a bit easier. “[Before] you would have to put it somewhere in the corporate directory, you would put it away in Slack, and you would need to send an email to the HR department of the organisation, who would put it into some other, different tool.” 

Since starting Space, Vink told us, there’s “a single point of entry – you just submit it there, and that’s it, it just goes to all the systems where it has to go.”

However, the tool is also meant to help with “what people do in their lives”, Vink points out. “If I have a vacation, that probably means that you don’t need to assign the urgent issue to me. [..] Or if I’m debugging in the IDE, maybe that’s not the time to push the notification on me.” 

With everything integrated, the issue tracker can easily get availability information and just not offer the person in question as an option for reviewing, while working in debug mode might signal the system to keep distractions at bay for the time being.

And while the notion of a system being able to track your every move might seem terrifying to some, the idea of transparency and collaboration across teams apparently lured in lots of early-access and beta users, who in turn inspired most of 2020’s new additions. Space now comes with an Automation module for keeping track of a system’s CI/CD activities, there are issue boards, document collaboration functionalities, ways to set conditions for merging commits and organising code reviews, and a way to import issues from other tools.

While competitors such as Atlassian seem determined to get their customers off-premises and onto the cloud, JetBrains names a standalone on-premises Space the main focus of its 2021 plans for the project. “There are a lot of regulated industries where you just cannot use cloud software; they cannot upload their code and that is a problem.” 

Another item on the high-priority end of the to-do list is offering video calls, because, well, you know your typical 2020 workday best. “One approach is to implement or build in functionality for video and audio calls. But most companies are already using something, so we’re going to be working with some technology vendors. For now, we are looking into Google Meet and Zoom at least, but there are going to be APIs that can be extended, of course, and they are going to be integrated with the external system as well for video calls.”

Other enhancements planned to land in the next couple of months are better localisation, especially for some Asian language areas, as well as migration helpers and integrations for other tools. Since Space was built with extensibility in mind, it has also put onto its agenda a marketplace that will offer applications organisations can then  use  to extend and customise Space according to their needs. However, whether or not there will be much on there is largely down to the company’s partners.

JetBrains Space is available now. Pricing ranges from 8 to 125€ per user and month depending on the billing model and resources needed, though a free tier is available as well.

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