Friday, March 18, 2011


The type of organization and the work culture determine the tools we use. Collaborative organizations make heavy use of online collaborative tools: shared databases, communication (email, mailing groups, netmeeting and conference, blogs), shared documents (text, spreadsheets, forms, presentations, videos, drawings), project management, coordination, outreach, data and process visualization, geomapping, etc. If the organization is open, these tools must also provide transparency and a low entry barrier.

I call an infrastructure of communication, collaboration and coordination a coherent set of tools that enable just that. I would also add to this infrastructure automated logistics, a set of tools that I consider still under developed. In fact, I predict that this field will fuel the next software development wave.

For most people, working within an open collaborative environment means learning how to use a set of new tools. From my experience, that is a problem. Anything new that requires learning and adaptation might scare your potential collaborators away.

Overcoming psychological barriers
  • Lower the barrier by choosing familiar and easy to use tools.
  • Provide a unified environment by building an infrastructure that allows users to jump seemingly from one service to another.  
  • Explain the necessity each tool.
  • Provide a collaborative learning space, designate resource individuals and set their priority for helping others to high, at least for the beginning.  
  • more to come... 

The infrastructure
  • modular: you can add and remove functionality without affecting too much the the entire system
  • scalable: growing should not be a problem
  • popular: potential partners are familiar with the tools and have easy access to them everywhere on the planet 
  • low cost: this is also crucial if you chose to grow the organization in countries with low income; try to use open source tools or free online services as much as possible 
  • outsource maintenance: focus resources on value creation rather than on the maintenance the infrastructure
  • more to come...
My choice was Google free products and services. Google provides a great variety of tools that can be easily  integrated (see our growing infrastructure). Moreover, these tools are becoming ubiquitous, people are already familiar with some of them. They aren't very fancy, but they are very simple to use and are robust. Google also offers comprehensive help, nice video tutorials and a collaborative learning space, so we can outsource most of that. We are also confident that these tools will be offered for a long time, and in case they will be discontinued Google has a good record for providing alternatives and/or easy exit processes. I also like the evolution of Google products and services, they are getting better, fast.

My initial group is not very tech savvy, so starting on a Google platform is probably the best choice.

One problem is that we are putting almost our data into Google's cloud. But we are trying to build an open enterprise, so it doesn't really matter, as long as Google provides easy ways of exporting it, which is actually the case.

There is also BetterMeans. My problem with it is that it proposes a centralized form of organization, which doesn't map onto the Discovery Network blueprint. Other arguments can be extracted from here.

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