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What’s collaboration anyway?

Collaboration is a big word. A lot of folks have tried to deliver technology to enable collaboration. I thought I’d rant a bit here about what collaboration means to me — and how I use the various tools I’ve selected to make collaboration effective.

In my particular case, collaboration boils down to having an effective online environment which can replace many, but certainly not all, telephone or face-to-face meetings in moving a small group of people toward a common objective.

Effective collaboration is perhaps more difficult for me — because I tend to avoid the telephone (it’s truly a nuisance at times!) and strongly prefer either face-to-face or online communication. It seems that most folks aren’t “wired” that way — they love the telephone and find the other two to be more difficult.

So, with that introduction, what tools are most effective for my particular style of collaboration?

Obviously, there’s email — sending attachments to colleagues for their review and comment, etc. We seem to do that somewhat endlessly — but it works, sort of.

Next, there’s instant messenging — in the case of our particular group of colleagues it’s MSN Messenger but it really doesn’t much matter. Pick one (AIM, Messenger, Yahoo, Jabber, etc.) which best matches the locus of your colleagues — or pick Trillian and try to tune into them all. One thing about IM that’s “fun” is knowing when your colleagues are online. There’s something “nice” about working away and knowing that you’re not alone! Ray Ozzie has written about the post-email world — where kids today have 20-30 IM windows open on their screen and live in those windows, not in their email inboxes like us more elderly folks. I’m not quite there — but IM is very helpful for quick Q&A and for small group discussions — where timeslicing with other work (like boring teleconferences) is possible.

The final technology component in my particular collaboration environment is Groove. I use Groove with a small group of collaborators primarily to share files in a secure way without having to waste a moment’s energy thinking/worrying about a shared server. It’s very nice for that functionality. We barely touch any of the rest of Groove’s functionality — but for file sharing, it’s superb. We tried some other server-based solutions (e.g., Microsoft Sharepoint Team Services) — but it’s much more expensive and much less useful compared to Groove.

Let’s hope the Groove-like file sharing functionality gets put into the operating systems sometime soon. In particular, I’d love to see an open source file sharing capability with Groove-like functionality (including something similar to Groove’s security architecture) — that I could implement on my Macintosh (under Mac OS X).

Ironically, of all of the technologies discussed here, the one that keeps me on Windows XP for the moment is Groove. My hearts in Mac OS X-land, my mind’s in XP. Talk about being schizophrenic!

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