The Connection <--> Collaboration Continuum


Oliver Marks picks up on a conversation he didn’t know I was having with myself in his blog post, Collaborative Networks vs Social Networks. This social vs collaborative thread resonates with a tension that I’ve noticed in my client work lately, and also in trying to map social & collaborative tools to meet clients’ needs in supporting networks. It boils down to whether the emphasis in the network is to make connections to share experiences, contacts, ideas; or to collaborate, engaging in activities to produce something. It’s not an either/or, of course. Web 2.0 has made us aware of the vitality of that comes from socially-generated content — comment streams on blogs, activity streams in microblogging, and so on — which can be precursors of collaborative activity.

In terms of tool selection, I did a very quick review of three “free” cloud platforms for a client to compare some of the specific features. I discovered that platforms strong on the connection side (profiles, activity streams, blogging)  were weak on the collaboration side (wikis, workspaces, file folders, task management).  A real sticking point for many groups is the need (perceived, perhaps, because we are so used to organizing this way) is for file folders and folder management.

This tension, in particular with respect to software/platform selection, was highlighted by an observation on an E2.0 conference panel. Walton Smith, a senior associate from Booz Allen Hamilton presented this year’s Open Enterprise Award gave a great talk about, a social networking platform developed for the consulting firm’s worldwide network., he said, is built around people, focusing on connections and activity streams — finding people and seeing what they are up to. But when asked about collaboration, Smith admitted that they continue to use SharePoint for that.

Lesson: you can develop a good social network inside the organization to satisfy the needs for connecting, but when you want to collaborate, you need a tool that provides more rigor for content and task management.

The  tension between connection and collaboration (and how to balance it) (and the role of content) is one of the most important issues in supporting networks in Enterprise 2.0 organizations.

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