In early 2006, I started pushing a concept of Focused Social Media, the point where social media serves as a platform for team focus. It has been amazing to watch how the state of the art has evolved in just four short years. For me, this is the true evolving web - where social media helps people collaborate, achieve efficiencies, and build excitement.
At the time we were using tools like the pre-Microsoft Groove as our professional social platform. We were giddy when we found we were able to collaborate globally, both within our company and with our clients.
In 2008, we began to use the Google platform. First tentatively, then enthusiastically. At Modus Cooperandi, we wrote two books using Google Docs, which was great. But it wasn’t until last summer in Washington, DC that the rubber hit the road.
Our first client was launching a product in the Government 2.0 space. We had several stakeholders who had precious little time to work on the effort. For this group, we leveraged the SocialText platform. SocialText’s new social elements (SocialText People and SocialText Signals), combined with the relational power of the wiki let the group get in and rapidly create focused products. Signals really let this group shine: being unobtrusively alerted to asynchronous improvements to the documents we were creating not only kept people involved, it also identified the group’s natural leaders.
Concurrent with the Government 2.0 project, we facilitated a one-week write-shop at the World Bank. Sixteen scientists and economists from fourteen countries convened in DC to author a group document. For this project we chose Google Docs, which turned out to be a perfect fit. Its UI is intuitive, and it allowed in-line comments for peer reviews. This group of 16 previously uninitiated Google Docs users took to it immediately.
Not only did this group need to become comfortable with the new tools they were being asked to use, but also with the manner in which they were expected to co-author the document: in real-time, as others (many of whom they were meeting for the first time) were watching. For most involved, working transparently was a significant paradigm shift. If the tools were difficult to use, they would have added unnecessary stress to a group that was already up against a deadline and whose work was under constant scrutiny.
Fortunately, the collaborative atmosphere was congenial as well as compelling. While they were working on the same product, their sections were fairly distinct.
On the first day of writing, we watched them move from working in dedicated pairs with one document up, to having a few documents up, to having almost all the documents up. This meant they were not only working on their own documents, but they were, in real time, offering subject matter expertise to the other documents.
Our next project was similar. The United Nations gathered a group of experts in collaboration including Nancy White, John Smith, Tonianne and myself. This project was aimed at creating an eLearning package to teach people how to form collaborative knowledge sharing organizations. For this, over 20 people globally participated, several of whom had never met. Once again, the Google platform was our app of choice. This time, while there was ample collaboration occurring within the documents, we found that we had to set up an email list to extend the already rich conversation taking place within the in-line notes. While that worked fairly well, it was nevertheless, disconnected from the tool. In this particular situation, SocialText Signals would have been useful.
Just last week, we launched the iKan Personal Kanban app for the iPhone. This was an interesting nest of social tools. The central tool was a Personal Kanban hosted on Agile Zen. This gave us a social structure around our requirements: we could see the requirements, their state of completion, and who was working on what task. This allowed us to collaborate with full knowledge of what our teammates were doing, even if we hadn’t spoken for a few days. Sparingly, we used a mailing list for backchannel conversation. And, for my part of product development, I used Twitter. I started directed, focused conversations with potential users to get feedback for ideas as they were being developed.
As I was writing this blog post, Tonianne sent me what may become the next evolution to how we collaborate on line. In this TED video, founder and director of Microsoft’s Live Labs Gary Flake describes Pivot, an application which he presents as a new way to relate to the mass of information we have at our fingertips. He suggests it could become the next browser – which it certainly will be.
What I see here is an opportunity to actively organize raw information into knowledge bundles. These bundles can become not only a filter for information, but also a way to collaboratively and coherently share knowledge.
Imagine if you will, that while creating the document with the World Bank, participants were able to seamlessly integrate and annotate external information. Not just with links or references, but with the actual information in a relational framework that could allow for enlightening mixing and remixing.