Email is the Enemy of Collaboration?

In his August 18 article for CMS Wire, Laurence Hart argues that email is the reason that new collaboration technology adoption is slow in the enterprise. He offers a number of reasons for the dominance of email:

– Ubiquity. Everyone has email, and the email system you use works with the email system I use.
– Integrated calendaring, for planning and scheduling meetings.
– Task and contact management.

He also gives the negatives – poorly managed content, the explosion of storage requirements for email, and siloed information.

Laurence’s overall argument is that email will only be replaced as the primary technology for collaboration when something else gives a unifying interface to the collaboration activities that people do. Only when you can be assured that everyone will be able to interact with everyone else through a new tool with there be widespread adoption, and for this, Laurence argues we need a shared protocol similar to what we have with email (“SMTP”). He writes:

The problems facing the adoption of Enterprise 2.0 tools are not just about culture or usability. It [is] about centralizing the collaborative working environment. The end game won’t be one solution that rules them all, but a collection of solutions that can work together without forcing users to switch between them. Like SMTP does for email, there needs to be a way for collaboration solutions to share artifacts with each other.

Until that happens, we are going to be fighting and working to get greater adoption of collaboration. Individual tools will continue to shine, but the adoption of collaboration platforms will continue to take large amounts of effort to start and sustain. It is something worth fighting for, but maybe we can win if we can just get them all to talk to each other and allow users to collaborate in one native habitat.

My Reaction
Here are my thoughts after reading Laurence’s thoughts:

  • I agree that there needs to be as few as possible places for interacting with and working with others. See my 2004 paper on the collaboration super client.
  • I agree that there should be interoperability in collaborative workspace products and services (from 2005). I don’t see a whole lot of cross-vendor progress on this though.
  • I am impressed by the work IBM is putting into Project Vulcan, which seamlessly integrates many currently disparate ways of working with others into a unifying interface.
  • One of my hopes for SharePoint, especially in a cross-organizational environment, is that the cloud-based option for SharePoint will enable the quick spin-up of SharePoint spaces for cross-organizational projects. When the project is done, the different parties get a copy or a portion of the SharePoint site for their records.
  • Just because new collaboration technology doesn’t work at the macro-level perfectly does not negate the power of the new tools to help defined groups and teams perform common collaboration scenarios in a better way. Document co-authoring using PleaseReview. Idea management via IdeaJam. Managing projects in Quickr or SharePoint. Sharing ad discovering expertise through Lotus Connections. And so on.
  • I agree that user adoption is more than just a “cultural” issue. That’s why I wrote the book about user adoption this year.

Anyway, those are the thoughts I had after reading Laurence’s post. What did you take away?

One thought on “Email is the Enemy of Collaboration?

  1. The fact that everyone has e-mail is so simple and really says a lot. It reminds me of AOL Instant Messanger in the late 90’s and Facebook, LinkedIn today. It’s like we are all still at the playground mimicing the popular kids.
    For me, I don’t think its eliminating e-mail, it’s about finding something e-mail can’t do and then the herd will follow.
    Good find Michael.

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