Webby Collaboration

If there's one thing we can be certain of, the Web didn't become the fastest-adopted technology in history because it touched that deep, atavistic research librarian buried deep inside of each of us. The Web isn't primarily about information.

Instead, people use the Web (and the Internet) to talk, joke, build ideas, look smart, get angry, become aroused, and for every other motive for behavior in public spaces.

Information is a relatively small component of the Web experience. A much more important component is and will be collaboration: people working together toward some goal, especially on intranets.

In fact, there's a continuum of business uses of intranets. At one extreme, people use the intranet for purely personal reasons (yes, even during business hours ... shocking!) including sharing games and posting The Top Ten Reasons My Boss Sucks.

Next, there are the communities of interest that form, many of which may be vaguely job-related.

And then there are the people who have figured out that the company intranet is actually a pretty great way to ignore the organizational hierarchy, cut through the red tape, and join with other motivated people to get some real work done.

That's good. In fact, project collaboration is the greatest value intranets have for business, far surpassing the benefit of circulating HR pronouncements so that people can not read them on screen instead of not reading them on paper.

But the Web also transforms the nature of project collaboration. It unmanages it.

After all, the Web itself is the largest, most successful, unmanaged collaborative project since the species voted to walk upright. The Web only exists because a worldwide group of strangers pitched in and made it work, put in the servers, put in the content, put in the heart and the energy and, most important, posted the pictures of Pamela Anderson.

And, arguably the most interesting developments on the Web have to do with new forms of collaborative development. Could anyone have predicted that the best shot at derailing Microsoft wouldn't come from the highly organized Department of Justice or highly organized competitors like IBM but from a radically disorganized, distributed group of collaborators working on Linux?

And perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Linux is how it is causing new forms of collaboration and management to emerge in its space. Competitors are cooperating -- to the extent of making investments in Linux distributors -- in unpredictable ways as the Web tries to figure out exactly how much and what type of management is required to make Linux really, really useful.

And on the Web -- unlike in traditional organizations -- the assumption is that the less management, the better ... and no management would be best of all. On the Web, everyone is a comrade.

We are seeing exactly the same sort of experimentation and openness on a much smaller scale in every business touched by intranets. Project teams form consisting of people who have found one another -- not people invited because someone higher up has to be made to feel useful or loved. How do you decide who does what? How does the team make decisions? How does it know when it's done? The teams themselves are evolving answers to these questions.

The result is that collaboration no longer means that I do this and you do that and together we get it done. Collaboration now means that you and I will figure out how to figure out who does what, when, for how long, until when. And we'll resort to management tools -- Gantt charts, weekly reports and power plays -- only as a last resort.

Is it any wonder the Web is so exhilarating

KMWorld Covers
for qualified subscribers
Subscribe Now Current Issue Past Issues