TECH TALK: Tech Trends: 7. Collaboration

Productivity emerges from teams of people working together to achieve a common goal. Even as computers have made individuals more efficient, it is only now that software is emerging to make teams work much better together. Categorised as social software, these solutions are using bottom-up knowledge sharing and management solutions like weblogs and wikis to ensure that the whole organisation is greater than the sum of its parts. The Economist had this to say about wikis recently: Wikis offer a middle ground between e-mail and a conventional web page, which makes them useful for collaborative projects, particularly those involving far-flung teams. Rather than maintaining multiple copies of a document and sharing ideas by e-mail, a wiki allows members of a team to pool their thoughts more easily. Blogs and RSS, an XML-based syndication format, even found a mention in a talk given by Bill Gates to CEOs recently. Gates said that blogs could be a good way for firms to tell customers, staff and partners what they are doing. He said blogs had advantages over other, older ways of communicating such as e-mail and websites.

Jon Udell, writing in InfoWorld, wrote about the social enterprise:

We are social animals for whom networked software is creating a new kind of habitat. Social software can be defined as whatever supports our actual human interaction as we colonize the virtual realm. The category includes familiar things such as groupware and knowledge management, and extends to the new breed of relationship power tools that have brought the venture capitalists out of hibernation.

Computer-mediated communication is the lifeblood of social software. When we use e-mail, instant messaging, Weblogs, and wikis, were potentially free to interact with anyone, anywhere, anytime. But theres a trade off. Our social protocols map poorly to TCP/IP. Whether the goal is to help individuals create and share knowledge or to enrich the relationship networks that support sales, collaboration, and recruiting, the various kinds of enterprise social software aim to restore some of the context thats lost when we move our interaction into the virtual realm.

In networked environments, everything we do can be monitored. Absent the natural cues that establish social context its hard to see groups form at the water cooler or hear voices in the hallway through e-mail or IM social software systems ask us to strike a bargain. If individuals agree to work transparently, they (and their employers) can know more, do more, and sell more.

Making groups more productive is the next big challenge that is being tackled by many companies. The focus now has been on tools that make writing individually and in teams easier. This is where blogs and wikis are rising in popularity. They do away with the rigidity that the previous generation of collaborative and knowledge management solutions had. A term used by Jonathan Spira of Basex to describe the new set of solutions is CBK: Collaborative Business Knowledge is the intersection of Knowledge Management and enterprise communities and collaboration tools. Basex invented the term because KM wasn’t broad enough (KM does not emphasize the collaboration aspect enough) nor was communities (which doesn’t emphasize enough the capture of knowledge.)

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.