Outlook 2007: Collaboration

Web conferencing and IM are now commodities; compelling content is the real driver for collaboration success in 2007.

It can be difficult to identify trends in the area of collaboration because the products in this category are so different.

Looking back at 2006, though, one thing is clear: The kinds of applications that have been traditionally defined as real-time communications, Web conferencing and instant messaging are now a commodity.

So what will happen in 2007? Standard asynchronous group collaboration tools will become real-time tools, both with and without Web conferencing and IM technologies. Central Desktop is a prime example of a collaborative tool getting real-time hooks through Web conferencing. And applications such as Google Docs & Spreadsheets and GroupSystems ThinkTank show how simultaneous editing in a shared application can allow users to work both synchronously and asynchronously.

In 2007, more applications will allow simultaneous editing of content with good mechanisms for apprising participants of changes to that content. I also expect to see better use of presence and embedded group chat functions, along the lines of those in Docs & Spreadsheets.

Perhaps presence information will be tied directly to groups. For example, if a team is using a wiki to generate an RFP (request for proposal) response, intelligent routing will surface presence information for subject-matter experts.

Wikis have the potential to drive much of this kind of collaboration, as users forgo Microsoft Word and e-mail as a way to share and collaborate on rich-text-based content.

However, the barrier to shared editing of documents over the Web continues to be user mind-set. In fact, getting people to stop relying on e-mail is still a big problem, especially when combined with the fact that corporate portals remain largely unused because people quickly lose interest in the content.

In some ways, Microsofts SharePoint 2007 and Office 2007 are tacit admissions of portals failure. SharePoint has been reborn largely as a collaborative application platform that users dont really have to interact with directly if their main job function is creating and revising documents. They can rely almost entirely on Microsofts Outlook, Word and PowerPoint for document workflow.

Theres a term that has become the subtext for a lot of conversations with vendors when it comes to wikis, blogs and portals and the content that originates out of these systems: KM (knowledge management). Of course, free use of KM is often greeted with derisive laughter, but one could freely interchange "enterprise 2.0" and "KM 2.0." Arguably, KM died because users had no interest in viewing and updating content.

RSS is supposed to provide the mechanism that gets users to revisit content as it refreshes on SharePoint and other collaborative applications. Is RSS any more compelling than e-mail-based notification? I know I can ignore e-mail and RSS notifications with equal effectiveness when Im strapped for time.

No, I dont see RSS as the answer. Rather, compelling content, applications and tasks—as well as a culture of sharing—will determine the success of collaborative tools.

Technical Analyst Michael Caton can be reached at michael_caton@ziffdavis.com.


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