Saturday, 1 November 2008

The 3 ways I expect Web 2.0 to change collaboration – and are you there yet?

So, if I’m yawning a little ;-) about the current examples of collaboration inside organisations using technologies from the Web 2.0 collaboration suite (e.g. wikis), perhaps I should explain what characteristics I do expect to see?

Firstly, at high level I expect Web 2.0 to change collaboration in the following ways, listed in order of value they bring:

  1. Make collaboration technologies more fit for purpose – Rather than a radical change to the tools we had in the past, Web 2.0 technologies, like AJAX and Rich Internet Application (RIA) approaches, are used to improve usability and accessibility – the results are tangible but in effect we are just building a better mousetrap, not introducing new modes of collaboration;
  2. Add new functionality to existing collaboration functionality – Adding new, but incremental changes to the collaboration functionality we already have, this might include improving findability and awareness through social feedback mechanisms and content syndication to providing new ways for manipulating information, such as mashups – however, we still haven’t changed the fundamental patterns of collaboration, even if this makes it better; and 
  3. Support new models of collaboration that didn’t exist before – What the old collaboration technologies didn’t do so well is support emergent needs (Web-based tools like eRoom and Quickplace started to do this, but are still relatively inflexible compared to the Web 2.0 generation of tools), reflect the need for boundary spanning or boundary agnostics collaboration systems and enable dynamic people-to-people and conversational collaboration – however, the challenge is that while the impact should be a radical change to the patterns of collaboration, it may also be technically less tangible because it becomes more about how we use Web 2.0 technologies, rather than what they are.

You might detect that these characteristics are informed somewhat by some similar thinking to that I describe for Intranet 2.0. In fact I believe it will become increasingly difficult to distinguish between the concept of intranets and collaboration as intranets become less content publishing-centric. So, regardless of what kind of 2.0 we are talking about, when is comes to changing how we collaborate using Web 2.0 technologies my expectation is that the value and our ability to execute in practice on these characteristics will be determined by other factors in an organisation’s environment. Such as (but most likely not limited to):

  • Constraints of the underlying business culture, user IT literacy or business model – in some cases, if you build they won’t come, at least not without the right support and incentives;
  • Breadth of platforms deployed and richness of the Web 2.0 infrastructure available – Web 2.0 is not about a single tool or platform, instead it is a cloud of technologies – you will struggle to get *maximum* value from deploying a single blog or wiki (this is probably a subject for another post! In the meantime, think about the mechanics of the SLATES model).
  • Competitive Forces – This comes from many directions – competitors who using Web 2.0, the war for talent, changing business models, etc (think of Porter’s Five Forces model – which is also another reminder that its not the technology, but how we use it).

I believe its quite possible some organisations will struggle to get out of the starting blocks - reflecting what I’m seeing first hand and that research evidence is suggesting. Of course if you wait long enough the chances are that even if you do nothing the natural progress of software upgrades in traditional collaboration suites will see improvements and new functionality (characteristics 1 and 2) provided for you anyway. But having said that, even if the capability is installed (and it works), you may not actually use it or use it poorly due to other factors. The third characteristic is also harder to achieve, because it will take more than an upgrade.

Unfortunately its a competitive world out there and some organisations will leverage Web 2.0 well and others not so well.

That’s all for the moment. I’ll give some more specific use cases in another post that will explain how these high level characteristics play out in the collaboration space.

In the meantime, can you give me an example of organisations implementing collaboration that demonstrates the second (brand new functionality, not better functionality) or third characteristic (new patterns of collaboration)?


  1. I really like your point about supporting "new models of collaboration that didn’t exist before". This is an important idea. We've already got things to support old ways of working to some degree. But this would enable innovation in collaboration.

  2. Your assumptions about the inhibitors pretty much line up against my PhD findings when implementing social software in learning environments..
    1) Organisational culture
    2) Current technology infrastructures
    3) Individual inhibitors - digital literacies, current ways of working/learning, time management, and identity (publishing publicly)
    There's a brief overview here:

    None of these are insurmountable but... we need some careful strategies to address them... More later - back to writing ;-)


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