Technology makes online collaboration easy. Too bad people don’t like to collaborate.

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Groove had been around for a few years when heard about it from a friend as this awesome new collaboration technology. Man, did I need something like this for the project I had recently taken on. I set up a Groove account for myself and a group of academics collaborating to publish a series of social science research reports investigating “Global Road Traffic Safety.” The deadline for submissions to the intended academic journal selected by this group of collaborators had already been extended and extended before I joined the party. It was slow going. My objectives for using Groove was to speed up the review cycles and document version of control for…

  • More than a dozen research papers,
  • Being reviewed by half-dozen social science researchers,
  • Who were scattered across as many continents and twice as many university and governmental institutions.


The hardest part of that effort had little to do with access to, or functionality, or usability of the Groove technology. The technology worked great back in 2002. It also worked in 2005 when Groove Networks was acquired by Microsoft.

So why didn’t Groove go on to become the huge hit I, and others I knew who tried it out back then thought it should be?

Fast forward to SharePoint, 2006 to present. I don’t love SharePoint as much as I did Groove, but WOW!, what an improvement over shared network drives, right?? When our IT Manager walked around seeking SharePoint experimenters and converts, I enthusiastically raised my mouse. I went nuts building pages and lists and wikis and blogs and surveys. Building, populating with all kinds of good content, promoting the use of SharePoint to my colleagues. This was going to be huge for internal collaboration and dissemination of important information, I thought. Never again will I send an attachment or deal with version control…  wait, it was read-only for you? Oh, you have trouble logging into the VPN when working from home? Oh, you accidentally deleted your bookmark to that directory…oh fine, lemme send another email the files attached.

Compose. Send (or maybe broadcast). Receive returned volley of comments and hopefully constructive improvements. Review. Compose feedback response. Send and repeat. This is how knowledge workers typically roll.

Is it collaboration? Sortof… ok, no, not really.

It’s been my experience that, regardless of the medium, industry, and office culture, the act of collaboration is just difficult for people. I applaud Microsoft’s vision of the Office of the Future with Office 2010 where “groups can create content collaboratively. Technology can make real-time collaboration easier IF people choose to use it and actually collaborate, either in real-time or asynchronously. Unfortunately, it’s been my experience that human nature and how we really work is the barrier to adoption of collaboration technology, not the technology itself. Keyboard tapping, mouse clicking knowledge workers like to consume, receive, contribute, sometime create, and always send. For most organizations, a minority of collaborators, early technology adopters and true believers do not constitute a large enough end-user contingency to make collaboration technology an investment with promising ROI. Let’s be pragmatists. Let’s not get ourselves caught up in the excitement of the new online collaboration technologies. Instead, let’s seek out technology that supports the way we and our colleagues really work… and save the time, effort, budget and emotional capital otherwise wasted seeking converts.

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3 Comments

  1. Posted January 2, 2010 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    Cool post… will be interesting to see where/how Google Wave will fit into the collaboration equation. We've been using it internally as a real-time collaboration tool for anything from 2010 corporate planning to blog post editing.

  2. Posted January 21, 2010 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

    Interesting! I have been looking for this info for the last few hours. Keep us updated I would like to hear more!

  3. Posted June 7, 2010 at 3:14 am | Permalink

    This is a wonderful opinion. The things mentioned are Great and needs to be appreciated by everyone.
    New Technology

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