Ever have one of those arguments at work that never seems to end? People leave the company and pick up right where they left off years later. The role of social computing in communication and collaboration is one of those arguments and two alumni of my Collaboration and Content team, now at Cisco and Microsoft, are still at it.
The dispute started at Burton Group, where Mike Gotta and Peter O’Kelly worked with me on the Collaboration and Content Strategies team. The core of a good analyst firm is a culture that fosters debate and hashing out of ideas. The papers and presentations our clients see are just the tip of the iceberg. We had (and continue to have at Gartner) a great thinktank culture.
The issue at hand has not changed since 2006, but it has become more pressing since social has taken off exponentially since then. Mike Gotta’s post “Pushing The Reset Button On How We Look At ‘Collaboration’” summarizes his point against a strict separation of communication and collaboration well:
The narrow focus on workspaces left a tremendous amount of whitespace in organizations where people still needed to informally interact, communicate, share information, collaborate – but in ways where an activity-centric “sense of place” was either unnecessary or too structured.
The way I look at “Collaboration 1.0” and “Collaboration 2.0” is the shift in focus from directed participation (represented by workspaces) to emergent participation (represented by communities and social networking).
Peter O’Kelly’s post “Cisco Community Central: Enterprise Social Software : Pushing The Reset Button On How We Look At ‘Collaboration’” upholds his view (still represented by our root template for collaboration and content) that the 2×2 model is still sufficient to cover community efforts. It was always assumed that activities could move between boxes. As Peter states
Activity tends to cycle among the different synchronous and asynchronous channels and workspaces.
So, one option is to expand the view of what collaboration is to include community activity as well as directed participation. I also see another option: that rather than tying social strictly to collaboration, it exists as a neutral spot between collaboration and communication. This would be a “third place” where spaces and channels are blended and can spawn more communication or collaboration: communities.
Mike is correct in saying that social is emergent participation. The way I see it though, this emergent participation spawns communication and collaboration. So Peter is right in stressing the way activities move between communication, collaboration, and (I would add) social.
Consider that people join or leave communities at will and post topics without an end goal in mind, but are certainly pleased when they motivate the community into action, either by launching a directed collaboration effort (“lets start a project to fix the problem this posting is about”) or communication between members. Like stem cells, these messages live and build until needed for a purpose and can then change to become collaboration or communication when the time comes. For anything to really happen, the messages must transform. They must be received as communications or result in collaboration.
Another interesting aspect of communities is that aside from being a “third place” above spaces and channels – is that they blur the line between synchronous and asynchronous tools as well (shown in Peter’s diagram). Networking has become fast and ubiquitous enough that tools such as Twitter, Yammer, and e-mail (particularly with toasts turned on) can launch back-and-forth conversations that are as real-time as instant messaging.
This dispute also brings up a tooling discussion: which tool is best to use, should you cajole people into not using e-mail for collaboration, are vendors being too siloed in how they build tools. I’ll leave that to another post. There’s enough to bite off just with the “where does social fit in with communication and collaboration?” issue.
What do you think?