Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A New Age of Communication-Centric Collaboration


Twenty years ago Lotus Development Corporation released Lotus Notes.  As one of the fortunate alpha tester and early adopters, Notes changed the way I relate to collective information and inspired my career in collaboration and social computing.  Since then  the platforms have changed but collaboration computing remains rooted in Ray Ozzie’s Lotus Notes vision.  As an extension to Ray’s view of collaboration, I created in 1996 the first social network (InterCommunity) on the Lotus Domino platform (Web server) and delivered the first Web-based community social network upon which partners could build community applications (similar to FaceBook).  The solutions we see on the Web today were understood and often existed in large enterprises as well as being available to a handful of early business Web communities throughout the ‘90s.   

For the last 20 years I have also observed companies going through the painful transition of archaic email and file sharing to Wikis and collaboration solutions.  The simple fact that collaboration is stuck in application silos is deeply rooted in the segregation of process and communication tools.  When you think about it,communication and deliberation precede the formality of process, yet most information systems have it backwards and do not connect the two effectively (even if they have all the latest Web 2.0 tools).  Frankly, other than Web protocols, the core usage challenges have not changed since 1989 despite the Web’s richer applications and social computing innovations; connectivity and open source is what made the difference thus far, not the applications themselves.  As we are naturally motivated in transposing what we know over understanding the opportunities that a new environment offers, we often continue to make the same mistakes and build technologies to over-think what is natural; our innate ability to communicate and  evolve.

But now Google shows us Google Wave.  Not since my introduction to Lotus Notes twenty years ago have I been wowed with innovation in that space.  Google Wave truly rethinks communication streams and collaboration as it should be with today’s connected world.  Google did not reinvent the wheel, they just proved that it a sphere.  It is perhaps too server centric for  my taste, but it  is just a matter of time before the model can be truly internet-based instead of mainframe-like.  Nonetheless, Google Wave’s API does open new ways to incorporate content, applications and structure in the stream of human communication in real-time.  Lotus Notes first version had some very basic features that made it possible to build solutions that promoted collaboration and content distribution, as well as  access control, replication, forms, views, scripting language, mail and later Web standards.  With these integrated basics developers created applications that exceeded Lotus‘ expectations.  Google Wave’s core architecture has the building blocks, openness and a framework based on today’s Web computing reality that will allow the user and developer community to marvel us with their clever use of Google Wave.  The communication-centric framework of Google Wave is simply brilliant and users will gradually embrace its many features as well as enrich their use through third-party plug-ins. 

I have read the more skeptical and critical press on Google Wave.  In my opinion they have short memory and grossly under estimate what Google is doing to the Web with this truly new paradigm.  Facebook and other messaging technologies need to think about ways to connect and leverage Google Wave or they will be left in the dust by its user community.  As to the critics who claim that the UI is too complex for every day users... I would like to add that if you survived and supported FaceBook’s user experience, Google Wave will not be a problem.  This is not your father’s Web so get with the program and compute with passion and intelligence.  We are about to discover new ways to have a return of investment for all the time we wasted promoting ourselves on the Web 2.0.  Isn’t it time for something new? 

I see Google Wave as new platform capable of creating a much needed movement to revive business opportunities and bring new players to the Web.  I also feel fortunate that the Darwin Awareness Engine brings a solution to the information overload that Google Wave generates.  If history repeats itself, Google Wave’s composition is destined to succeed. 

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