Online collaboration scales
In talking about collaboration on the web, the first thing I did was running the term ‘collaboration’ through the WikiScanner, in order to find out to what extent online collaboration was used to create the article on collaboration on Wikipedia.
The picture shows the first result that the scanner comes up with. A whois-search returns British telecommunications as the main source for this article.
Despite the fact that we cannot be sure that one person has exactly one IP adress, there is a tendency to think that the article on collaboration was not really a collaborative piece of work.
In defining what ‘good’ or ‘successful’ net cooperation is, often Wikipedia is mentioned as the main example of a successful and equivocal project. Without going too deep into this discussion (as this is already extensively done on this blog), it is very questionable how valid these claims are (link to post). But what then, is a good example (augmented or real) of online collaboration?
In researching collaborative work on the net, one has to question what people are actually doing there? Shuman and Reilly state in their article that people:
collaborate, publish, mobilize and observe. In mapping the question what people do collaboratively and what they do individual, they introduce two axes; that of formal versus informal, and centralized versus distributed.
By introducing this strategic uses spectrum, some conclusion can be drawn on what actually is the status of online collaboration.
When looking at ‘analogue’ institutions (as an opposite of networked organizations like Wikipedia), it can be concluded that the tools used are mainly email and/or messenger infrastructures.
As Ned Rossiter argues in his book ‘ organized networks’ it is of great importance that these institutions catch up and get involved in online collaborative structures in order to keep their validity and raison d’etre as an institution.
The question now is where this all leaves us when talking about online collaboration? In short we might say that it works for mmorpg’s, it does not work for classical institutions yet, because of their bulky and slow way of adapting to the ‘now’. Also, seemingly beautiful and honest examples like Wikipedia are in fact the wisdom of a very tiny crowd.
When taking a microscopic view on online collaboration and look at my own behavior in that sense, I can say that I too still see email as the main way of communication, with Skype as a very nice add-on for direct discourse; the tools that are heavily saturated in society. With a current new (geeky-small-crowd) trend of using games and/or game-engines to communicate ideas and/or do collaborative sketching, for instance, or projects like Processing that are entirely built-up via the Web in an open-source fashion, there is a set of tools upcoming that allow you to do much more collaboration online.
When we scale up again to the institution-level, however, this is way-future material, I am afraid.