Collaboration Katamari: Brainstorming for the ultimate collaboration app

Communication mediums are everywhere - each has it's benefits and drawbacks.  Ward Cunningham once asked “What is the simplest online database that could possibly work?”, hit a few keys, then the wiki was born.  I've always been facinated by the consistent emergence and evolution of collaborative mediums...

Every once in awhile, things like BBS, IRC, ICQ, Usenet, telephones, and water coolers fall into the hands of users that use it, extend it, and make it perpetual.  New technologies like Google Gears and Yahoo Pipes, and the .Net 3 stack are appearing that give us the power to wire up some killer-features into our existing frameworks & apps.

I just tripped across a small feature list of what I would consider the ultimate collaboration app. I wrote this months ago, when my site was offline (I've got a lot of written stuff still sitting around, gotta get it up here)... When I wrote it, I was reflecting on what communication channels we use every day, and what makes them important to us:

Common communication channels:
- Phone call
- Conference call
- Meeting
- Static website (managed by IT)
- Dynamic website (managed by Knowledge Owners as Content Managers)
- Wiki
- Email
- Blog
- Instant messaging (IM)
- Walk-in / informal discussions

What's the perfect all-purpose collaboration app? Here's my feature-list for the Killer Collaboration Application

Ease of use - You can quickly and naturally provide information without stepping out of the flow of your work

Email and IM feel natural, and if users are able to disable the interruptive aspects of them, they provide a great environment for informal and quick group discussion. Websites (Content Management Systems) require some knowledge, and usually the user needs to open a browser to access/change information, and are therefore more disruptive.

Timeliness - How up-to-date is the information? Is it stale by the time it's needed by others?
Many mediums use a chronological format. Email (in particular, the inbox) is a chronological list of correspondence that is easy and natural to use. Using Re: and some clever UI tweaks, 'threads' of discussion can continue on, keeping a discussion and information timely. IM is the poster-child of timeliness, to the extreme that lighthearted conversation is one click away. Copy and paste a news hyperlink directly to friends in your IM network and they immediately get notified.

Applicable - Does this information apply only to current circumstances, or is it applicable outside these circumstances, even to other parties? How does this information apply to others?
Phone calls or IMs may used for be personal, circumstancial purposes. Meetings include those 'in context' to the purpose of the meeting.

Accessible - Is this information available to others outside the exchange? Over what channels? Is the information 'pushed' out to users, or do they have to actively pursue it?
Websites and wikis are used to be accessible to larger audiences.

Accurate - Is the information being exchanged conclusive, substantive, concrete, of good quality, objective? Or is it informal, ad-hoc, subjective, inconclusive?

Persistent - Is the information available after the exchange? Is it recorded somehow, or does it exist on a persistent platform like within a database?
Meetings and phone calls do not persist without the help of minutes or recording equipment. Most other mediums persist chronologically, in a proprietary format. Custom, database applications and service-oriented architectures provide flexible persistence solutions.

Stable - Is the information backed-up, are updates audited? Or is it volatile, where random updates can occur and remove or irreparably change data?
Wiki content, though it is open and easily editable by anyone, has full auditing (who done it?) and versioning (roll it back!) to enforce stability. Email threads can easily lose focus or change topics entirely over a series of correspondence, and are therefore more volatile (yet more conversational).

Reusable - Does the information exist in a standard, open fashion that enables others to access it for their own needs?
RSS, Web services, and Service Oriented Architectures (SOA) provide standard channels for outside applications to repurpose data. Extracting data from an outside source can literally be as easy as writing a url and picking through the resulting XML response.
Print | posted on Tuesday, September 11, 2007 12:16 PM

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