Tools As Place

When we first launched the Blue Oxen Collaboration Collaboratory, a few people expressed some confusion about the tools. Specifically, one person said, “I’m not sure whether I should post ideas to the mailing list or the Wiki.”    (UG)

Someone I’m working with recently asked a similar question. Our project has a group blog and a Wiki, and this person expressed confusion over where to post a story.    (UH)

In both cases, my answer was, “It doesn’t matter.” Or at least it shouldn’t. My philosophy about collaborative tools is that they shouldn’t lock you in. As long as I can do all of the things I want to do with the information once it’s in a tool, I’m happy. This is not the status quo with today’s collaborative tools, but it’s something we’re working very hard to make happen. You can see some of the fruits of that labor in the tools that we use at Blue Oxen, and the tools that our collaboratory participants have created.    (UI)

That said, certain tools facilitate certain patterns better than others. Blogs seem to facilitate Story Telling better than Wikis. I think the main reason for this is that blogs are designed to be personal spaces, whereas Wiki pages are implicitly deindividualized.    (UJ)

What patterns does email facilitate? Email serviceably facilitates many patterns. That’s a blessing and a curse. It means that email is an all-purpose collaborative tool. But, when groups are using email in conflicting ways, it becomes burdensome. (See Problems With Email for more thoughts on this.)    (UK)

The ideal solution is to use an integrated suite of tools, each of which are there to facilitate specific patterns. If these tools are appropriately interoperable, then there won’t be “wrong” ways to use the tools. But, there will still be optimal ways to use these tools. Discovering what’s optimal requires practice. Hand Holding also helps.    (UL)

Email (and archived mailing lists in particular) plays two important roles in this suite of tools. First, it’s excellent for notification. Second, it’s excellent for Chatter. It can be as real-time as instant messenging, but the end result is more structured.    (UM)

I think there’s a niche for a tool for discourse that is even more structured than email or threaded forums. I don’t think Wikis are the answer. I think group blogs and tightly bound blogs come close, but are not quite right either. I’ve been sketching out the design for a tool I believe will fill that niche, which I’m calling Abelard for now. The design is in its infancy, so I won’t say anything more about it now. However, you’re welcome to view (and contribute to) its Wiki page, which contains a brain dump of the ideas. Comments and questions (in any form — on my Wiki, on your blogs, or via email) are welcome.    (UN)