The biggest problem with information is that people dont share it: Some people will hold back a key piece of data as if it will raise their level of importance in an organization. There are exceptions, of course. Overwhelmingly, however, Ive had a jaded opinion of collaboration software since it tries to force people into doing things they resent doing.
Luckily, a few peer-to-peer applications, the phenomenon of instant messaging and a reliance on e-mail have allowed some vendors to sneak in, corral unsuspecting users and force them to collaborate in ways they actually like.
To these companies—most notably Groove Networks, eRoom and Zaplet, —collaboration is the capturing of real-time and asynchronous data as a means to get users to work together.
My guess is, these are fierce competitors who probably cant work together but refuse to go into battle because theyll destroy their nascent industry. Thats the way it seemed at a recent collaboration panel at Internet World.
Groove and eRoom rely on real-time instant-message-like collaboration while Zaplet relies on e-mail. eRoom has the concept of the Digital Workplace, an application and a server that captures all real-time, asynchronous, structured and unstructured data. Groove does just about the same thing but features tool sets customizable for specific industries. Zaplet, the lone dissenter, relies on e-mail for distribution of all materials and does so because e-mail use is so pervasive in corporate computing.
They all sound interesting. I think, though, that they havent been the killer apps they were touted to be because theres no killer problem to solve. Instead, all three are scaling back somewhat from "enterprise" collaboration. Theyre moving into departments and workgroups, where there are specific problems to solve.
Theyre also moving their products into more vertical industries, such as financials and retail. It sounds like the thing to do, but if these products get too specific, theyll turn into applications that force people to work the way the app does, not the way they do, and these companies will fail.
Will collaboration ever be viable to ordinary mortals? Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.