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David Allen Comments on the Power of Lotus Notes for Ad Hoc Databases

Earlier this week, David Allen (GTD) and Eric Mack (eProductivity) were interviewed by Bruce Elgort and Tom Duff on Episode 92 of the Taking Notes podcast. There are a few themes discussed in the 50 minute conversation, including an introduction to GTD, a discussion about David’s use of Lotus Notes, why has the world not understood the power of Lotus Notes, Eric and David’s upcoming session at Lotusphere 2009, and David’s new book.

Others have commented about various segments of the podcast (such as Eric on the Notes sucks — huh? segment), but the piece that stood out most to me was David’s advocacy of the power of ad hoc databases for local teams and groups.

Here’s a (slightly edited) transcript of David’s comments, starting at 18m50s:

Can we just create some collaborative place where we can park the relevant and appropriate data when we are focusing on some particular topic. From our perspective … the biggest and most valuable leverage use of Lotus Notes, has been the ability to be able to create ad hoc databases that are relevant to topics and big projects, so we can all park appropriate data in there, and current data, and current topics about that, and then refer people to that, as opposed to loading up email in linear, sequential fashion, where you have to run the dialogue to death with 65 interations of CC:, BCC:, CC:, BCC:, about stuff. That’s just part of the database. And then link people to that if they need to, but that’s where the conversation will be managed.

So, interestingly, and this is still something that I don’t quite understand yet, is why that very, very, very powerful feature of Lotus Notes, has not still not been tapped to the degree it could. But our own personal or at least local iteration of that, is that it is a place to capture data. So that at any place, no one has any excuses. The latest PowerPoint, the latest spreadsheet about …, the latest list of the people who are going to be in my next public seminar. It’s all in one place, and we can all access that from our virtualized places. And I don’t think anybody else on the planet has come close to anything that can really do that in such a more visually user-friendly way.” (ends at 20m32s)

A couple of thoughts:
– If people are permitted to create databases to support their personal or local collaborative work, the attraction of the system becomes much higher. David was talking about Lotus Notes, but that principle applies equally to SharePoint, Central Desktop, Socialtext, Atlassian Confluence, and all the others.
– The proliferation of local or small group databases / spaces / team sites / wikis can become a content management nightmare over time. There has to be some guidelines and governance processes in place to ensure a spagetti-like mess doesn’t result. And actually, there’s a whole chapter in Seamless Teamwork that talks about how to approach this in a SharePoint world.
– There are many other tools that will support what David is doing in Lotus Notes (although offline access and replication are vitally important to David’s workstyle, and most other tools are weak on that front), but he’s blind to them because he has adopted and embraced Lotus Notes so well. And even if he was to switch to Microsoft SharePoint, or Central Desktop, or Atlassian Confluence, or Jive Clearspace (or any of the others) for the collaborative workspaces capability, it would involve a tremendous rewiring of the practices and embedded group habits at The David Allen Company for … what benefit? A repeat of what he has now, minus seamless offline access? (although with SharePoint, he would embrace Colligo Contributor to give him that). Would there be an order-of-magnitude improvement by switching to another platform?

What do you think?