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On Collaboration

Today I had a meeting with a large multinational content and document management vendor (who shall remain nameless). I was struck by how many times they used the word “collaboration” to describe their current software. Collaboration is also a trendy word in the world of social software. But the difference is that social software folks use collaboration in the bottom-up sense – using weblogs, wikis and other new web technologies to empower the users.

Multinational CMS vendors are tacking hard in the other direction – they use the word collaboration (and its derivatives) in a strictly top-down sense. Their push is to target their software to CEO’s, Corporate honchos and Legal bigwigs. Collaboration is seen as something to be driven by management – a software solution to roll out to the users.

“OK everybody, here are the tools. Now, er, collaborate! What are you waiting for?” [pokes a user with a stick]

It’s no coincidence that the phrase “lockdown” was deployed more than once in today’s discussion – referring to IT’s ability to force people to use the software. Lockdown is something that IT departments all over the world love, because it gives them as much control as possible over users.

But people hate being controlled…

My own preference is for bottom-up information management software, using weblogs and other pieces in the social software jigsaw. It gives control back to the people who have to use the tools. However I don’t blame multinational CMS vendors for targeting the management layer of corporations and organizations. After all, that’s where the money is handed out.

It’s up to corporations and organizations to trust their staff to make decisions and create content. Unfortunately the kind of top-down Content and Document Management tools hawked by multinational vendors mirrors the management style at a lot of companies. How collaborative is that? Not very.

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