August 5, 2015

When Form Shapes Substance: Blogs Wikis and Collaboration

CIO Strategy Exchange, New York, 2006

On the superiority of discourse, i.e. collaboration, over writing in Plato: “Writing cannot be tailored to specific situations or students; the writer does not have the luxury of examining his reader’s soul in order to determine the proper way to persuade. When attacked it cannot defend itself, and is unable to answer questions or refute criticism.”
-Wikipedia

Terms and Conditions

For this paper, collaboration technologies can be judged on four primary dimensions: reach, speed, precision and security. Reach is the number of people in the community who can interact regardless of physical distance. Speed is the time span required for the community to both receive the necessary information and respond productively. Precision assesses the ratio of people reached who can and will collaborate versus those left out, or those for whom even receiving this information is a waste of time. Security is the risk the information will be stolen, vandalized or simply misapplied, especially unsettling in the current flight to litigation.

By these lights, all traditional collaboration technologies pose tradeoffs between incontrovertible benefits and inevitable disadvantages. Synchronous tools like video conferencing combine high speed with low reach and suspect precision in the sense that people who should be involved are omitted because of schedule or time zone conflicts. Asynchronous tools like email combine high reach with imprecision and attendant overload so numbingly adverse that information is inadvertently ignored or forgotten. Proprietary tools like Notes and eRoom may lag open source blogs and wikis on reach and speed but still be preferred in our crowd because they offer more rigorous security and version control.

In general, enterprises evaluating any collaborative technology are searching for traditional benefits like shorter and fewer meetings, less travel and, of course, collaboration that successfully reaches consensus and conclusion. What’s new in these evaluations are the repeated referrals to email reduction. Yesterday’s productivity boom has become this year’s bum with the distracting proliferation of spam from vandals, advertisers, and defensively minded (CYA) colleagues.

By 2007, spam (not including pointless copies) will rise from 60 percent to 75 percent of all email, says Gartner. The dominance of spam will discourage legitimate email for persistent conversations if more selective alternatives can accomplish the same ends. Consequently, email will decline from today’s 90 percent of all electronic communications to 75 percent next year – to be replaced by instant messaging (increasing from 8 to 15 percent), wikis, and blogs (increasing from 2 to 10 percent.) Wikis will be sponsored by half of all enterprises by 2009. Already, early corporate users of wikis report that their email flow has declined by 75 percent while their meeting times are being reduced by half, claims Dresdner Kleinwart Wasserstein, the poster child of wiki-vangelists. (Business Week, November 28, 2005)

We’ll begin with the most popular collaboration technologies emanating from the consumer sector, previously the launch pad for PCs, Windows, and (arguably) the Web. In all these cases and more, the technology winner in the consumer marketplace ultimately dominated the enterprise market as well. Volume won, no matter whether the consumer technologies were better or worse than those originally embraced by the corporate market. For this background paper, our three consumer favorites are blogs, wikis, and instant messaging. After that, we’ll give due space to more traditional enterprise collaboration technologies primarily because they can demonstrate the clearest benefit metrics.

Blogs

Blogs are scrolls on which the original author supplies material and others can add or comment as well. By any lights, the blogosphere is a phenomenon. In February 2006, Technorati – the blogsphere’s center of search – reported 27.8 million million blogs, doubling every 5.5 months with 1000 postings per second. By late March, the count had climbed above 30 million. No surprise, fewer than 100 blogs draw the bulk of viewers – at least according to Technorati’s best measure: the number of links from other blogs. By the same count, the top four blogs in March ranked just behind the web sites for Wired and the LA Times and far behind the one-two web leaders NY Times and CNN. These were BoingBoing.net (“a directory of wonderful things”), Engadget (gadgets, games and robots), PostSecret (post a secret you never told anyone), and DailyKos (lefty yellow press, offset by Red State, righty yellow press).

Attracting 20 to 100 links are another 155,000 blogs. Among them, not incidentally, are the dozens of blogs in the ecosphere surrounding every CIO Strategy Exchange-scale corporation. The long “tail” is the other 30 million blogs, including the generally ignored diaries of teenagers and other crazies.

Enterprises are coming late to this vibrant world. Corporate executive blogs are a rarity. They are offered by only 22 of the 500 largest companies, ranging from GM to McDonalds to Sun Microsystems (BusinessWeek Online, February 14, 2006). More often, corporations are operating their internal blogs for specialized information sharing and their external blogs for consumer interactions according to both our queries and (less reliable) press reports.