Web developments are providing new possibilities for collaboration. They involve new ways of using blogs, portals, extranets, intranets, podcasts, wikis or other forms of what might be broadly termed social media or social software. You could replace the word "social" with "collaborative" and it would still work as a good descriptor of what's great and new in IT today.
These new media form an emerging information infrastructure facilitating participation and collaboration in ways that make working together better, faster, cheaper and easier than what came before. What came before includes Lotus Notes, chain email communication, sneaker nets, faxes and phone calls.
Yet in May 2007 it is still the rare knowledge workers walking the streets of Sydney in a grey suit who "gets" the possibilities these very new media present for collaboration in business.
In my personal life I faced this very issue last week when I was mocked by two friends, who I recently stumbled upon after a gap of about 37 years.
After our first get-together we decided to try to put together a little reunion of our rugby playing Willoughby Primary School class of 1970. Already we know some live in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and London. Our team won football competitions and includes four New South Wales state representatives in primary school rugby union.
To pull the disparate group together we began with several chain emails. I loathe chain emails, it's too hard to manage.
So I did 40 minutes of research on alternatives. I considered the options of online collaboration using social media such as MySpace, MSN Groups, or Yahoo! Groups (I considered, but rejected using FaceBook). I then made a proposal to go with Yahoo! Groups and said using such media we could plan and discuss the reunion and use it for communication between long lost souls, before and after any reunion.
I was surprised by the rejection of the suggestion. One comment was: "Maybe you could give us classes to set it up or better still we could do a three day course. My vote is to keep it simple."
I'll call that a grey suit comment, as I was indeed keeping it simple, much more simple than chain email. No doubt in time my mates will recognise the productivity advantages of using new media beyond email.
You be the judge, in my email proposal to my friends this is what I said about Yahoo! Groups:
"The functionality Yahoo! Groups provides is perhaps all we need:
- recording all email communication, so the full log of emails would be kept online available on the Web 24/7
- permitting search of email communication by date using an online calendar in Yahoo! Groups
- permitting inputting of short personal profiles of each group member, including photo
- permitting members to subscribe and unsubscribe
- giving a list owner several privileges (presumably, most importantly, to boot out bozos)
- giving a right to every member to "start a topic", ie an email thread
- photos of the group can be shared on the Yahoo! owned Flickr website."