People Collaborate In Conversations; Tools Are Secondary

Collaboration ToolsPeople collaborate electronically in more ways than ever before, but we’re still forced to think about the technology first.  In fact, new collaboration apps enter the market daily.  We constantly adapt to keep up with the people we want to engage.  We use many channels to share content:  text, email, social sites, cloud storage, instant messaging.  The list goes on, and the variety of apps grows by the day.  Even small groups typically collaborate with a range of different tools.  Large organizations try to standardize, but that breaks down as soon as they engage customers and partners.  Sharing content can be as much work as creating it.  It’s nearly impossible to keep track of the interactions across these diverse collaboration networks.

Today we’re forced to think in terms of the app or the site.  It’s in “my project site,” or “my cloud file folder,” or “my email.”  All of this is just overhead.  What we’re really doing when we collaborate is having conversations among groups of people.  Each group is a community of interest.  Each conversation shares content about certain topics.  We add people to conversations when we want to bring a new perspective or share ideas.  Topics evolve and weave together as conversations explore adjacencies.  Over time, these interrelated conversations grow and evolve.  Networks of people tap shifting currents of content.  Technology does a great job enabling us to create and transmit content.  What about harvesting the knowledge from this sea of conversations?

What if we could view content according to what we’re doing instead of how we’re transmitting it?  Imagine seeing all the conversations about a project regardless of communication channel.  Imagine calling up a list of topics relevant to your relationships with individuals and groups.  We spend too much time thinking about the technology.  How much more could we get done if we could focus on the purpose of our interactions?  How much could we improve our decisions with conversational knowledge as context?  What tools exist to help us pivot from a technology-centric view of content to a conversation-centric view?