Combining Wiki and Email Collaboration

The one thing that bothers me most about Enterprise 2.0 is that in certain circles it has taken on some aspects of a religion, rather than a pragmatic approach to solving certain business problems. They preach that Enterprise 2.0 tools (especially Wikis) will replace email – and of course everyones life will be be better. This doesn’t make any sense to me (nor does it make sense to Andrew McAffee – the inventor of the term Enterprise 2.0. In his blog he mentions trying to replace email is a bad idea).

The reason it doesn’t make an sense is because email and wiki are such complementary technologies, especially with respect to bringing visbility to the ad-hoc, unstructured, human processes in organizations. Emails and Wiki fulfill different requirements  the spectrum of technical tools need to support human processes in organizations. In trying to find what others are thinking around wikis and email I came across the following diagram that tries to explain why Wikis are superior to email:

 wiki_collaboration2

The reason that I think it is a good picture is that it shows one use case where Wikis shine (and email sucks) – the collaborative editing of documents. I also think it is a good diagram because it shows that the collaboration folks don’t think in terms of the human process that includes the collaboration (and on the other hand the process folks forget about the collaborative side of processes). The drawbacks of email in this scenarios are:

1. Attachments can lead to confusion (which is the most up to date version)
2. No collaborative editing of documents (or docuement versioning)
3. Project related Emails are scattered throughout the inbox
4. Doesn’t have a history and tracking mechanism

but email isn’t all bad, even for this scenario. Assuming this part of a larger business process (e.g. contract management, audit), today’s Wikis are missing functionality too:

1. Opening side channels of communications,
2. Bringing outside people into the collaboration
3. Notification
4. Enabling sequence of steps as part a process.

That is why I think the answer is a combining of the two technologies (as Google has done with Wave and we have done in ActionBase, especially in ActionBase for Sharepoint). The new type of email (ActionMail or Wave) solves email problems 1,3,4 (a single verison of each attachment, a single email line item per process, an inline history and tracking mechanism). For the collaborative editing aspects – Google Wave leverages Google Docs, while we leverage Microsoft’s solution.

By combining the two metaphors – email and wiki – we can provide a solution to real business problems,  that either solution on its own can’t.

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2 Responses to “Combining Wiki and Email Collaboration”

  1. Uri Shani Says:

    Jacob – Excellent viewpoint. I suppose email will evolve to be just what you say and leave content for other technologies – be in wikis, blogs, forums, calendars, picture archives, and whatever new will come into web 2 and 3.0.
    Mail will certainly evolve into an events service which will reference content elsewhere. At this point, perhaps rather than looking at merging email with other functions, it will be best to see how to mange it well as a collection of events having important attributes such as the parties involved, the event, the time, tags, a comment, and so on. Lots of applications can than be created to do various good services based on the repository of events.

    – Uri

  2. Stuart French Says:

    Nice post Jacob.

    Beware radicalists in all spheres I say. Getting back to the fundamentals doesn’t means focusing on a single solution or technology, but rather reassessing what the needs are and building from first principles. In this case, often many solutions have something to give and email and wikis don’t have to be an either/or option.

    Stu French

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