27 thoughts on “Wanted/Needed: UX Design for Collaboration 2.0”

  1. Terrific article. I buy in!
    As to real Web2.0 PM & Collaboration tools are concern, I would agree that very few solutions have today either the breadth and depth we need, or the right integrated architecture. Lot of solutions are still addressing one issue (usually very well), but are far to be this comprehensive, secure SaaS based virtual office that should enable result oriented collaboration across the street or across the world.
    The success factors are first a very advanced architecture (service hypercube allowing to seamlessly move from one service to the other and link everything with everything), second a high level of Transparency and finally a high degree of Accountability. One tool does that, really. It is not on your radar screen yet. You should take a look at http://www.Qtask.com.

  2. One problem with SharePoint is the vendor lock-in and technical portfolio requirement. Forget it. You lose creative input right there from what would otherwise be a larger pool of of developers and UX people. Whatever happens it needs to be open. I agree with the module-based framework approach; seems like the right way to go.

    Just read that article Susan Chopra linked to. Very interesting. The collaborative web browsing is, in my opinion, a perfect example of the missing collaboration capabilities implied here. Certainly one artifact to covet.

    One thing I don’t quite get is your suggestion for synchronous collaboration (simultaneous merging?) on a document. For example, you pointed out diffing and subversion, etc, and seem to say that the most recent version save — trumping the previous — is less than perfect. Do you mean the process is too clunky (e.g., having to pick through a diffing page), or there should be a more esoteric merging of text, like mixing blue and yellow to get green?

  3. Interesting article, I liked reading your take on collaboration and it’s directions. I’d love to see your model expanded with your sports-team metaphor applied as a way of providing an example. Another piece of software that you might consider taking a look at is Microsoft’s Office Groove: (http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/groove/HA101656331033.aspx). I haven’t used it, but I know that it’s goal is to provide a single shared collaborative workspace.

    There are a couple things I’d like to see added to your description of ideal collaboration software. The first regards the role of the team leader. A leader has to be able to keep tabs on his or her team members and ensure progress, I think any good collaboration software should include this. My designed some communication software for search and rescue teams a few years back and teams really appreciated the ability for the team leader to be able to keep tabs on all his people from a single source.

    The second focuses on training. In my personal experience some of the most collaborative teams include football teams, hostage negotiation teams, and military units from companies down to fire teams. One thing that all of these teams have in common is that they train together regularly. As a result, they really understand their team members, their habits and their capabilities very well. I would like to see some kind of training feature in a which the team can work together to accomplish some kind of mini-task on some kind of regular or semi-regular basis. I feel like the biggest hurdle to effective collaboration is behavioral, it can be hard to get people that are not accustomed to collaborating to do it regularly and well. I’d love to see collaboration software address the behavioral piece.

  4. Although it is more focused on collaborative development, also check out IBM’s Jazz.net and Rational Team Concert.

  5. On Susan’s pointer to IBM: The idea of synchronised web browsing is novel, but with more general purpose tools for remote screen sharing (GoToMeeting, WebEx etc), why would you want just that limited facility?

    I like Blue Spruce — “to allow several users to huddle over Web pages and interact in real time as participants mark up the page”. That’s what I referred to in the article as multi-user editing and would be wonderful to see. This may help Destry Wion understand what I was referring to. The idea is not necessarily to merge multiple people’s changes in separate colours, but for all participants to see a single object that they can all manipulate. Of course, there would be a need to indicate who is making what changes, and that may be reflected in colour coding, or by floating avatars or something else.


  6. Gabriel: thanks for the comments. I had not previously seen qtask and as I stated in the article, part of my intention was to find out about software I hadn’t considered. On first glance qtask looks quite neat. One question I have is about how open the architecture is — could different customers plug in alternative modules (e.g. could they incorporate Jira if that was what they were already using for task tracking?


  7. Matthew: I see what you mean now, thanks. I thought you were referring to a physical melding of contributions (the resulting artifact), whereas you are talking more about the collaboration leading to the artifact’s final state. Seems trivial at first look, but there is a difference. My reference to color was misleading, as I was using it as an analogy of melding process and the illogical outcome if applied to text communication. 🙂

  8. Demetrius: On leadership, I deliberately left that out of the model because it plays such a different role in different teams. in fact some collaborative methodologies avoid any single leader, preferring to emphasise equal responsibility. Nevertheless, many (probably most) contexts would value the type of functionality that you suggest: namely, the ability for a designated person to see/control what others in the team are doing.

  9. Demetrius: there are some good things about Groove. I like how a workspace is both local and shared. That is, you can work on your copy of an artefact while disconnected from the network, and then it is auto-synced (auto-sunc?)when you reconnect. The product still suffers from the vendor lock-in that was noted by Destry about SharePoint.

  10. Demetrius: Excellent point about “collaboration software address[ing] the behavioral piece”. That not only applies to training. It would be very useful for the collaboration platform to have some embedded understanding of team dynamics, such as Bruce Tuckman’s Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing model.

  11. Matthew: Good point on the leadership aspect, for this application I was thinking about the role of the project manager and how they can get overloaded quickly. Collaboration definitely requires coordination and transparency would be very useful in that regard. I have a lot of interest in this topic, I recently saw Kim Goodwin from Cooper describing their team model during a talk and it was very compelling, it might be interesting to see what she would look for in a piece of software. Understanding the work of your teammates is a major hurdle also, I recently proposed an article on this site intended to help people understand research (my specialty) in the interest of better collaboration.

  12. You should check out the Omnium software (disclaimer: I’ve been involved with the project for some time). It’s mainly used for online collaborative teaching projects, often worldwide, but has a pretty good set of features. For this particular use it would need some expanding, but it’s open source so if anyone with the skills out there wants to get stuck in, they would be welcome. I teach (design and interaction design) students with it to Australia from here in Germany and really like it. http://www.omnium.net.au/software

  13. *kudos*
    After a period of intense and productive activity on my collaborative decision-making systems I just took a moment to kick back and ponder. What came to mind was “I wonder what folk at B&A are up to.”

    And I find this thread at the top of the homepage.
    How fine is that?!

  14. p.s. my methodology hinges on a slight refinement of your “Collaboration is action-oriented”. Point being this, playing on the distinguishing between “data” and information i.e. when I’m confronted with a decision point (existentially) salience makes itself felt. I mean at a gut level. This has everything to do with cognitive schema (“pop-out” and “priming”, yes?). Data that isn’t salient is, if not noise, distraction. (We daren’t throw it away … since events are actually fractal there’s no telling with certainty what will come into play.) Without denigrating other issues as trivial, the required action (i.e. decision point) imposes a set of priorities … and that should/must be empowered, that has to translate into a set of operational filters: these datum are salient, these are key, and all of those are secondary / peripheral.

  15. Ben: it all sounds confusingly metaphysical to me, but I think you are correct to point out that a lot of data is thrown into the collaboration process, and not all that data is information. That certainly necessitates a filtering and prioritisation process. If collaboration is to reach some goal then the “actions” need to be “directed actions”. Am I understanding you correctly?

  16. How left brain is this?

    Colloboration is a label not an action.
    Passing documents back and forth or engaging in conversation is just that.
    Chipmunks don’t collaborate with themselves by leaving nuts in the ground, they store and retrieve nuts.

    If you want software to make it go faster then give up now or force everybody to adopt the same interaction processes.
    After all, software is just the manifestation of process, simple as that.


  17. @Matthew – Less “metaphysical” and more “operational”; imagine being able to filter documents / information / data by salience. What I find myself suggesting is that once we reduce the information overload we then have space and time to address what matters to the individuals involved, to get into the players’ subjective narrative. And the whole thing turning on the single point: does this directly affect the point at hand / the matter at issue.

    @Nick – I’m sure you’d allow that lots of times action is pretty pointless … make-work … thrash … lots of heat but no light. In a collaborative setting (IMNSHO) there’s a real likelihood that activity is goal-oriented, so long as the agenda is observed.

  18. This is a great article and a vital conversation. We’ve got a section on collaboration in the social design patterns wiki, and I’d welcome feedback, suggestions, corrections, etc:

    Most of the relevant patterns are under Collaboration (but a few, such as those related to calendaring, are under geo/location).

  19. Random musings.

    I wonder if there is not something Holy Grail-ish about the idea of a single monolithic out-of-the-box piece of software that can elegantly answer all of process collaborations actual forms. It may be like enlightenment or perfection; something we are always moving toward but will never absolutely reach.

    There is so much that is unique to the way that 1) different kinds of projects are structured, 2) to how different types of teams work, 3) how different teams are configured re: whether responsibilities and skill-sets are combined or fragmented among more or less people, 4) how individuals actually use tools (for purposes intended, un-itentended, or using one tool for a task for which another tool is designed), 5) how custom meta-associations could iterate on the needs of even a well thought our modularity … etc. Achieving an infinite range of custom flexibility in a modular suite is one challenge; then what about flexibility within a project configuration that accommodates the individual team member while still being operable in a common world of exchangeability with others on the team.

    There are so many directions of flexibility to accommodate every last possible variation in such a totalistic system. It seems like we would need to inventory every last feature of all collaboration software, break them into a zillion modular components, and use a host of wizards, maps, and other planning tools to help users configure the work-space of their dreams. Big learning/effort curve here for sure. Many prefer simple out-of-the-box tools because they don’t want to roll their own. Perhaps an answer to this is to have a community of configurations, rather than (or in addition to) a free form community of modular developers. Imagine a case where I am a large scale multi-media theater director and I have created a set of modules and meta-associations that work great for me. Well my configuration should be findable by someone doing a particular project. Is the big problem always that software does not have what we need, or that we just don’t know how to make it do what we need it to do? Well a browseable library of project-type configurations could help someone through the weeds of a monolithic collaboration tool like this.

    I think open source development would have to be heavily curated. It seems like there would need to be a dominant controller who would need to keep up with everything going on in the community of development. Imagine a case of managing “Enterprise Modularity”. How do you keep people from developing redundant tools? It could end up like at RecipeZaar.com where you have the option to select between 1,229 recipes for “chocolate chip cookies”. Where do you start?

  20. Interesting read and certainly caught my attention. I normally don’t comment/advertise with software that I’m associated with, but you asked for it!

    ConcourseConnect is a new collaboration and community application that has many of the features mentioned, and in the spirit of collaboration it is available with an Open Source license. There’s a lot of breadth, and in some areas not enough depth, but hopefully if you are inclined and would like to share your opinion, whether you are a business user, designer or developer, there’s room for participation and feedback. There are web conferencing capabilities in development, but other than that, you will find wikis, blogs, reviews, ratings, commenting, planning and more.

    Concursive ConcourseConnect

  21. Interesting article. Trends covered in my book are geared toward creative solutions that require a bit more abstraction and fluidity in the collaboration engineering components. The ones listed in the article here might be used as rules of thumb for certain cases. Collaboration seems to be moving toward deeper activity rather than portable apps (“out of the box” instead of out of the box) :]

    *Disclaimer – author’s book*

  22. An off the wall approach comes from SERENA Software. SERENA Software sells an expensive, but comprehensive web based integrated tool set that:
     Support collaborative development team process with IA integration
     Visually capture requirements as wireframes and extend them into high-fidelity prototypes that simulate the final application
     Supports Agile, lean business management and other common methodologies
     Manage the product requirements, business process, development life cycle, defects, software configuration & releases
     Uses a Project and portfolio tool to track project plans, tasks, resources, time tables and schedules

  23. In the article I lament the fact that Google’s acquisition of JotSpot didn’t seem to have produced anything good. But the URL “https://www.google.com/accounts/ServiceLogin?continue=http%3A%2F%2Fsites.google.com%2Fsite%2F&service=jotspot&ul=1” suggests that Google Sites is derived from JotSpot. Anyoen able to confirm that heritage?


  24. I used JotSpot before Google bought it and think Google ruined what worked well and Googleized it into something less.

    You might look at Microsoft’s Communication Server software. It creates a framework around tools a team typically uses rather than forcing a team to learn new tools in order to work together.

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