The Collaboration Explosion – Web Apps Galore

After reading Keith Swenson’s recent post, I’m convined; we really are addicted to email. There’s no doubt about it. Or rather, we’re addicted to the methodology and mindset of email – responding with messages and attachments when and where they appear.
This, of course, causes complications, not the least of which is tracking progress and status. But we also have the issue of mutliple instances of documents, multiple copies of mailboxes if you log in elsewhere, and in the case of the bottomless pit of information that is Gmail, a complete mess of any and all content.

Are we stuck in a rut?

I’ll be honest, it’s difficult to wade through the multitude of solutions available for collaboration and communication, that are supposed to be the end of email.

Even among my peers, I encounter a strong resistance to web apps and online collaboration tools, and they still prefer emailing documents back and forth.

If we are to fight this phenomenon, it’s likely going to be a long and arduous battle. It took email years to work its way into the workplace, and now it seems well and truly entrenched. Education is a critical component, and teaching people to “put their toys away”, as Mr. Swenson suggests, is an important lesson.

But we don’t like to be told we’re wrong.  We like our familiar tools, we like what we know. New things come along, but Facebook doesn’t help most of us get more work done.

Getting over ourselves

What most of the collaborative tools and web apps I’ve mentioned try to do is make using them almost fun.

37 Signals have a design philosophy that makes their applications sexy, in computing terms. On the other hand, it doesn’t look like something that belongs in an Enterprise environment. It’s also not suited for non-project work, such as ad-hoc processes and short-term collaboration.

MediaWiki puts Wikipedia in our hands, but it’s got a tough markup, and getting into using it is a tough hurdle for many individuals whose time is too valuable learning new tools.

Google’s applications are so ubiquitous, it almost makes sense to default to using them whenever you need to collaborate with someone who’s not in the same organization as you are.

While these tools make a lot of sense for small companies, freelancers, and highly tech-savvy teams, the same is not always true for large-scale companies in the Enterprise category. Their employees are diverse in their levels of use of technology, the organization often wants to have a lot of control over access to internal information, and compliance requirements are higher than ever — something most of these tools aren’t concerned with.

From a user’s perspective, they are all far from providing the kind of control that users feel they have with MS Word, Outlook, and a good solid connection to a Windows network drive.

I myself, being a fan of many things web, am not crazy about having to login on a half-dozen different web apps, chucking things into The Cloud, and trying to convince my colleagues that this NEW web app is the one.

The key, apparently, is letting people use what they like and what they’re familiar with. Don’t try to force-educate your users – they won’t appreciate it. Leverage their existing skills, and work in your philosophy through there. The idea that email, and desktop applications like Outlook and Word are going to vanish tomorrow just because Google release a new application, browser and operating system for netbooks tomorrow, is naive. We’re not selling buggy whips just yet (Or so I hope…)

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One Response to “The Collaboration Explosion – Web Apps Galore”

  1. Sneha Says:

    Have you tried out Injoos Teamware. I would reckon that they have the most comprehensive integrated collaboration platform. With their latest release they have added a new twist to track and execute projects “the social way”. Checkout their Blog http://injoos.com/blog/2009/10/09/seamless-collaboration-with-release-35/

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