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Decades of technological innovations have transformed almost every area of business, but little has changed in how we copy and paste information. Many of us are still manually moving information from one place to another using CTRL+C and CTRL+V, which were invented by Xerox computer scientists Larry Tesler and Tim Mott nearly 50 years ago.
Copy and paste was indeed revolutionary, allowing workers for the first time to transfer information and data between static documents, and it soon became ubiquitous in workplaces globally.
Today, however, copy and paste can no longer easily meet the demands of business, as workers are transferring thousands of pieces of data (numbers, text, images and more) from interactive documents and websites into cells, fields and platforms. With so much data that needs to be moved, copy-and-paste has become a repetitive and mind-numbing task, prone to human error and extremely time-consuming. Valuable time that should be spent on important work and projects is instead used on manually transferring data and keeping it updated.
“It’s a lot of switching tabs,” said Emily Stewart, customer success expert at MobyMax. “‘Okay. It’s this date.’ Switch back to the tab, write the date. ‘Okay, expiration date. Let me double-check that.’ Switch back to the other tab.”
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More intelligent copy-paste
Frustrations with copy and paste have come to a head in recent years, as data has become increasingly important to the success of every business.
To help alleviate the pain, process automation technologies based on machine learning (ML) have been springing up to speed data entry and automatically update data. These technologies recognize patterns in the tasks workers are trying to accomplish, transfer all the data in one go (think autocomplete, but for copy and paste), and save loads of time.
We should not accept the current limitations of copy and paste and think of it as a necessary evil that we must live with. Copy and paste must become more intelligent. Innovations can and must be made to dramatically reduce the time spent on transferring data and meet business needs faster.
Here are some of my thoughts on improving copy and paste so we can focus on work that truly matters.
Retool the computer clipboard
Currently, only one piece of information at a time can be copied on a clipboard, which stores data temporarily. On Windows and Mac, the clipboard defaults to only keeping the last thing you copied.
But imagine if you pressed CTRL+V for a few seconds and a history of your copied information came up. You could copy anything from your history without worrying about immediately pasting it somewhere. There’s no good reason for the clipboard data to be short-lived when it could be so much more intelligent.
Make copy-and-paste dynamic
The original idea behind copying is that you’re essentially creating a freeze-frame of a piece of information or data that you can then call up later. The problem? If you wait too long, this data can become outdated and irrelevant.
“If I’m tracking candidates in a spreadsheet, I might have a column listing their most recent employer,” said Michelle Corman, technical recruitment manager at Clearco.“But these days, people are changing jobs quickly. So after even two weeks, the spreadsheet might have some outdated information on it.”
The internet is a fast-paced place and very much alive with the two-way flow of information. Rather than creating a static memory of a piece of data, copy and paste could be retooled to periodically check back to the source for any updates.
He’s an example: You copy and paste information from a LinkedIn profile to a spreadsheet. The copy-and-paste feature connects to the LinkedIn profile page. When the profile page is updated, the copy-and-paste feature automatically updates the information on the spreadsheet. This can also work for updating numbers each week on a dashboard or updating your customer relationship management (CRM) platform with the latest client contact information.
Or, let’s say you want to copy and paste all the information from 50 LinkedIn profiles into a platform like Salesforce. Wouldn’t it be great if the copy-and-paste feature recognizes what you want to do and automatically pulls the information into the platform?
Reduce copy-and-paste errors
Copying and pasting is a relatively simple task, but it requires laser focus on details, especially when you’re working with thousands of pieces of data. It’s incredibly easy to move your cursor to the wrong spot and copy and paste the wrong thing or hit the wrong keyboard buttons. Time and time again, I’ll think I’ve copied something only to realize I hit OPT+C or SHIFT+C by mistake.
Unfortunately, there’s usually no immediate indication that you’ve made an error. Perhaps a few hardware and software tweaks could help reduce or prevent mistakes. For example, the keyboard could gently pulse under your fingertips when you activate the copy function on the wrong information, or your computer screen could highlight what you’ve copied in yellow for a moment so you can make sure it captured just the bits you wanted.
There’s definitely hope for improving copy and paste, and inroads are being made. Copy and paste made the jump to smartphones brilliantly, and Apple’s universal clipboard automatically transfers data, text and images between Apple devices. Perhaps, someday, copy and paste will even get its own dedicated button on the keyboard. Dare to dream!
Data management is increasingly important to every organization. Making features like copy and paste more intelligent will help relieve frustration among workers and allow them to spend more time on projects that drive business.
Rosie Chopra is COO and cofounder of Magical.
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