Square peg, round hole, why is collaboration so hard?

IMG_3566 My personal view is that collaboration is hard.  I want it to be simpler.  I hope I can help make it simpler where I have influence.  I’ve talked previously about making collaborative interfaces, in terms of email, suit the users that it serves (1,2).

Today’s “rant” is really about vendors not bridging the gap between the various areas that the user performs their work.  The information workers we deal with day in, day out have a plethora of needs when it comes to the software they use.  So let me write down my top 10 annoyances with collaboration:

  1. Poor interaction between the file system and collaborative systems.  Why in most cases do I need to enter the collaborative application, click on attach, browse to the file I want to attach then ….. etc.  Why is there not a method with most solutions for Right Click, Send To with a logical expanding menu to send the file to the application of choice.  Take a lesson from Flickr here with their uploader tool and also a right click tool.
  2. Why even in recent releases of some instant messaging products can I not drag a file into the chat to send it?
  3. Within collaborative workspaces why do most vendors not consider import/export of data between workspaces, remembering that project spaces have finite lives before they become legacy, however elements of the projects will remain relavent and data may be required in other spaces.
  4. Why are most implementation of collaborative environments not self provisioning?  Recently within my employer this trend has changed.
  5. When self provisioning environments are enabled how easy is it to delegate access control and is the act of producing the access list a straight forward process.  In one example I see regularly the self provisioning workspace is excellent whereas the interface and directory for access management is god awful.
  6. If most of a users collaboration is in their email why don’t we utilise this more?  Why do we insist the user must move data here, and there, and then over here.  What the user sees is one thing that hasn’t changed in terms of folder structure for years, it has been defined by them to suit them.  OK we IT bods may have migrated them from system A to system B but their folder system and emails are generally still there.  Hence, they like it, they feel comforatable with it.  They use it more than any other interface.  Why force them to move data into collaborative workspaces for projects?  Why not just share data within email files between users engaged on projects?  If I had my way then every folder in a users mail file except the in-box or a “keep hidden” folder would be indexed for searching and retreaval by collegues.  After all its a corporate system, the data is corporate.  Someone is already saying “yes but what if someone sees data they shouldn’t”.  Well training should help there, and how many of us know of examples of sensitive information being sent to large numbers of users via email?  I can think of many examples.
  7. Reply to all with attachments ……rrrggghhhhhhh!!  Default it to OFF, please!
  8. People who set themselves on IM to do not disturb all day long.  There should still be a way of highlighting to that user that you need to chat to them.  Perhaps by clicking on them and then your icon in their buddy list turning a different colour.  Sametime 7.5 has selective do not disturbs, which are good, but my view is there are still times when I need to get someones attention and they may be on a conf call.
  9. Don’t fill portals with useless information!  We hate it, so users will hate it.
  10. And finally ….. use subscription based approaches to collaborative software wherever possible.  Train users of the benefits of subscription and feeds.  Foster collaboration from ground up.  Don’t be scared of corporate blogging.  Worst case is if you don’t do it internally some of your employees will be doing it externally (case to point here).  I’d love the opportunity to have a corporate blog internally and discuss items I can’t post here.  I’d also like an aggregator as part of my desktop suite of applications rather than rely on bloglines at work.

 In conclusion corporate collaboration needs to be user friendly, interactive between various interfaces and corporates need to open more to disruptive technologies and let their leading edge people use the new tools internally rather than force them to use them externally.

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