Wednesday 23 November 2005

Before social software there was...

...Lotus Notes. Ok, I know, I know, I keep going on about it. But if you want to know where we are going, you should also know where we have been.

While IBM's official history is a good place to start, I also recommend going back a bit further and reading about its origins in the PLATO system which has some insights about the future if you look. What I particularly enjoy about the story of PLATO and Lotus Notes is that:

  • Like social software, "Notes" originally appeared out of the PLATO system in response to an evolving demand for functionality, rather than a planned design case (i.e. users didn't know what they wanted until they started to use it).
  • The PLATO system provided an integrated same time/different time communication environment - something we are only beginning to see in many so called "modern" groupware or social software tools.

Of course Lotus Notes has some downsides (sorry, "features"!) so its interesting to consider these as social software tools are increasingly used within corporate IT environments - e.g. the flexibility and power in Lotus Notes can result in usability, scalability, duplication and information overload problems.

More recently also have a look at this summary of a panel discussion at Lotusphere 2005. Here Ray Ozzie talks about his concept of a "meshed" information environment. Jack Vinson has also posted a summary of an interview with Ozzie in the November 2005 issue of ACM Queue. Ozzie apparently points out "that large companies are at a disadvantage with respect to flexibility in software. New collaborative technologies are coming out, and individuals and small enterprises are using the new technology to good effect".

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