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E-mail is Anti-social Part 2: Distributed versus Collective

By Anthony J. Bradley | September 03, 2013 | 0 Comments

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This part 2 of an “E-mail is Anti-social” multipart blog. Here is Part 1.

Email is a highly successful communication tool because it is a push centric message distribution mechanism. It is a poor collaboration tool because this distributed characteristic leads to information fragmentation even at small scale.

Let’s extend our lego thought expirament from part 1. Imagine if we try to assemble our Lego interceptor using email. Lets say that one of you distributed a copy of your Lego piece to the group with your ideas on how others could attach their pieces. Then just 20 people in the group picked up that email, took action on it, and then distributed the results of their work out to the rest of the group. Now there are 20 versions of initial attempts at assembling the interceptor. Now let’s say that each of those 20 versions was picked up and augmented by 20 people and they distributed their versions out to the group. Now we have 400 different versions of the evolving intercept.

This amplification is called the network effect. It is critical to realize that the network effect is destructive to collaboration when pursued through a distributed communication paradigm. This fragmentation makes it very difficult for original participants to follow even slightly robust collaborative efforts. And it makes it virtually impossible to add in new participants. You certainly can’t expect people to read through 400 or so versions to get a decent picture of the current state of collaboration.

In the new age of mass collaboration we do not distribute we collect. We collect around the collaborative product. We go to the collaborative product to contribute. We go to Facebook to contribute our profile and our friend connections to create the world’s largest social network. We go to Wikipedia to contribute our knowledge in the form of an article and tie it to other relevant articles. We go to YouTube to post our video and tag it so it becomes part of the larger repository. This is a common characteristic of social collaboration. The collaborative product is central.

In our Lego thought experiments we would all take our piece and go to a single place to contribute to the evolving interceptor. Unlike email distribution, the network effect is productive for collaboration when executed with a collective approach.


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