Having grown up during the transition from mainframes to PCs and worked in IT when we were first installing PCs, I find it amusing to see how people return now and then to the topic of collaboration in the Internet and SaaS era. Last month media pundit Jeff Jarvis weighed in with his comments here. Notably, he says:

Collaboration is not allowing people to comment. Collaboration is not giving them opinion polls…. Collaboration is not enabling them to send in the pictures of the snow on their back porches, something I hate when TV news does it as it condescends — it says the public can’t provide real news or quality images; we’re merely humoring them. No, collaboration is about sharing the work of journalism…. News, then, begins to take on the architecture of the Internet itself: end-to-end. At one end are the witnesses sharing, at the other the readers reading and interacting, asking their own questions, having their own say, passing on and recommending what interests them. No need for a gatekeeper. No need for a distributor. No need for a central hub. No tolerance for controllers. The conversation is occurring on its own.

I find it an intriguing notion. Normally, when I think of collaboration, it is usually about two or three people working on the same document, the same presentation, for a client or some other deliverable. The traditional mainstream news collaboration is all about workflow — getting the written word copy edited, then matched with any pictures or illustrations, fit into a schedule, and then published with other news of the day or week.

But the form of Jarvis-style collaboration is inherently messy: it means a full two-way conversation between creators and consumers. It is taking the information suggested in a reader’s comment and actually attempting to provide additional analysis. It is about getting the reader involved in the changing story about a product or a service that s/he uses, and often has better insights about, than anyone who has to write news posts five times a day.

I think this has implications for corporate IT workers, too. Here are some questions to think about:

  • How do you disseminate information to your project teams, especially members who are in different cities?
  • Do you use chat rooms, IM, or Intranet/Wikis to any great effort? If you had to pick one technology to help increase collaboration, which would it be?
  • How many emails does it take to book a meeting? If you have lots of f2f or even telecon meetings, you need something better than serial emails to arrange them. Look for an article about that next week from me.
  • Do you tag your work product to make it easier for others to find it? If you are using SharePoint or some other document repository, this is key to making it truly useful.
  • Do you use any screen-sharing tools? These can help tie people together, particularly if one person has to demo something to another.