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TECH TALK: Collaboration: Weblogs

July 13th, 2001 · No Comments

Weblogs begin where emails end. Email is excellent when one is sending emails to a specified group of people, and where immediate action is needed. Many times, one wants to share documents, news and other information with people – this information may not be of the utmost importance, and it may require comments from others. So, rather than sending an email inviting a chain of responses, one can use a Weblog as a platform for collaboration.

A Weblog is like a diary. It consists of links to documents, with some commentary or analysis. Weblogs are thus like conversations, much like the conversations one has to lunch tables or in informal corridor meetings. Weblogs lend a persistence and structure to these conversations.

Within companies, Weblogs can be created by people, who have that unique knack of sharing, of “reflecting” ideas and events, with their own take on them. They serve as “amplifiers of human thought”. They can also be created by project teams to provide updates on an ongoing basis. On many such occasions, the uni-dimensional nature of email becomes too narrow for the threading that is required.

Take for example, a document written and circulated for discussion. Here is how a Weblog can be built around that document (or theme):

  • Each paragraph in the document can have a hyperlinked number at the end. This serves to uniquely identify that paragraph and the concept embedded in it.
  • The document is available on the internal Web server, and perhaps put in the shared IMAP folder for review and comment.
  • To comment, a team member can click on the hyperlinked number to open up either a new browser window (or a compose Mail window) to send in comments specific to that paragraph. If the paragraph is numbered 4, then this comment can be numbered 4.1 (assuming it is the first comment on that paragraph).
  • The comment is then inserted in the original document, in a different font or colour to distinguish it from the original text.
  • The email version of the document is also updated “in place” with the comment.

Consider how efficient the process of sharing and soliciting feedback has become. I can comment on (annotate) specific sections of the document, and when I do so, they are available for all to see. Others can also add to the threads. If I am offline, the email version captures the document for me to read offline. Thus, there is a threaded discussion group created, and with all comments and counter-comments viewable in a single page (or in a single email).

Summary
Collaboration is about sharing, about participation, about conversations. It is about extracting knowledge from the people who know best. It is about doing so easily and cost-effectively. The combination of HTML email and the Web browser can be used to create components like shared folders and Weblogs to foster collaboration platforms.

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