Online Collaboration
  • Understanding It
  • Picking It
  • and Making It Work in the Workplace

Obligatory Commercial
Who is this "Charles Roth" guy?
  • Author of "Caucus" collaboration/conferencing system
  • Implementor of the BuzzPhraser
  • Unix 1979, Linux 1994
  • Wrote GE R&D Email system 1978
  • English Country Dancer & Caller
  • Nepotist, taught Cap't Neil to program 1972

    (NB: Caucus is half Open: UI files are fully open source, underlying engine is "View Source" licensed -- all source code is published but requires buying a license to use)


Joke 1:

Power Corrupts.

PowerPoint Corrupts

(this is plain old HTML)


Joke 2:


...itty-bitty presentation time...


(This was a half day talk.  Now it's an hour talk.)

(Warm up your engines, I'm going to race through this.)

Section I. OLC: Understanding  It  

TLA's (3 letter acronymns)

  • FTF = face-to-face (live meetings)
  • OLC = on-line collaboration (all kinds)

We all know what collaboration is. OLC covers many different kinds of collaboration:

  • technical
  • education
  • decision making
  • process & work flow
We've all had some experience with doing it online, even if only via email.

The Three Key Words  



      It exists.
      Will it kill the collaboration?
      Will it improve it?
      Does your workplace need to keep conflict hidden?

Joke 3:

"Teamwork means everyone
doing what I say."

What's so special about OLC?

It's worse than real-life collaboration.

But it's also better:

Some things are faster!

Even in same place/same time, supplants traditional (FTF) meetings if used well.

On the third hand... everything that people do badly FTF can be done even worse online. But I get ahead of myself...

Models 1: Small Groups

Tight 2-10 (e.g. Apache core)

Medium 10-40 (e.g. an IS Department)

Models 2: Big Groups

company 40-500+

amphitheatre 40-500+ (slashdot!)

Actions: what we really do with OLC

  1. collaboration (actually building something)
  2. tracking (customers, events -- autoforming small groups)
  3. information sharing (slashdot)
  4. training/class
  5. community building
    • to what end?
    • or just adds energy to other purposes
    • consensus (or not!), polling, delphi
  6. subversion
    • going around chain of command
    • skunkworks
    • finding (un)natural allies outside departments

Consider matrix of Group sizes x Actions.  Action mix and effectiveness different in each group size.

Section II: Making It Work

Technological: what tools and features make it work?

  1. centralized discussion (gives us HISTORY and CONTEXT)
    1. linear vs branching
    2. who's seen what?
    3. tracking: new vs old, interesting vs not, categories
    4. management
    5. rearranging/moving
    6. moderation
    7. searching
    8. people! And their info
    9. notification ("drag 'em in")
    10. email participation, NNTP connection, RSS feeds, etc.
    11. anonymous/psuedonymous
    12. weblinks
    13. reviewing/filtering (info lens, peer review, meta-data commentary)

Making It Work (continued)

  1. Email.  Absolutely required, but...
    1. exponential explosion
    2. history (not)
    3. context (not!!)
    4. feeling of powerlessness
      1. drowning in volume
      2. email threads lost
      3. don't know who is reading, not writing, "lurking"
      4. invisible conversations around you

  2. polling/voting (straw votes are a tool; real votes are fake)
  3. files
    1. files attached to discussions
    2. discussions attached to files
    3. shared documents & revisions

Making It Work (still continued)

  1. real-time tools
    1. instant messaging
    2. who's on
    3. chat
    4. audio/video netmeeting
    5. whiteboard (does anyone really use it? Not 'till we can draw...)
    6. integration (archiving) back to centralized asynch discussions
  2. scheduling/calendaring
  3. work/to-do lists/commitments (!!)
  4. web-able/searchable/static content (google it!)
  5. data mining (does it really exist?)
  6. plays well (integrates) with other tools
  7. publishing/blogging (??)
  8. online vs offline tools

Making It Work: with People

Psychological: it's still all in the mind...

People are crazy.

People are wonderful.

OLC amplifies both aspects.

People are crazy

Our internal process is mostly invisible.
Even we have a hard time knowing why we do what we do.

The stickiest part of collaboration is "the meeting".
We still don't know how to have them.

In Closing...

Always ask these questions:

Miscellaneous Links