Notes in the Margin

On the intersection of web apps, digital content and social media

Social Networks and the Evolution of Collaboration

I’ve recently signed on to a new assignment as head of Business Development for Scrybe, a startup in the social networking space. The application is called Convofy, which at first blush it appears to be very much like a wave of other popular private social networks such as Yammer, Socialcast and Chatter.

source: Geek and Poke

If Enterprise 2.0, like Web 2.0, is centered around people, and relationships, and communities, and being connected, then it’s no wonder these apps have gotten significant attention. Private Social Networks are like Facebook, except that the population of users is limited to everyone with the same email domain, which usually means people within the same organization. Of course, most of these PSNs (including Convofy) now enable people outside your email domain to have limited access if invited.

Purely from a social perspective, these apps are interesting and engaging, like Facebook can be. They become a switchboard of activity associated with the people and groups you work with. This activity can include things like shared links, updates, images and files. On a human level, PSNs can animate and narrate the social side of your organizational work; they can make you feel connected, and add a sense of meaning.

At heart, a PSN is a communication medium, like email or phones. It can also be an informal content-sharing platform. In either case, a PSN can help communicate and coordinate activities within and across groups.

As has been noted by many others, notably analyst Peter O’Kelly, the boundaries between what were once distinct categories of communication, collaboration, information management and web applications are becoming blurred. Because they are free, social, easy to use and immediately gratifying, it is tempting to adopt tools like Yammer to provide the primary channel for your organization’s communication and coordination requirements.

The challenge of course is that, while PSNs confer a sense of connectedness, and both narrate and notify users about work-related matters (and some non-work matters), they generally don’t constitute the environment where the work itself happens. Integrating your organization’s communications with true enterprise, productivity and collaboration applications is a natural evolution for these apps, and PSN vendors are working away at finding ways to be relevant to the arena of real work.

  • Yammer has a published API, and plans to provide an embeddable widget to include social streams in other applications
  • Socialcast has just announced a lightweight project management app, an environment more closely tied to real work
  • Chatter is particularly effective when used in conjunction with its parent platform.

Convofy is itself a PSN, with all the aforementioned connectedness and functionality you’d expect from the genre. While Yammer et al are about communication and coordination, they are not actually about collaboration – the process of working together to create, review, revise and publish. By adding true collaboration capability, Convofy makes a giant step toward the convergence suggested by O’Kelly in the diagram above, integrating the communication value of PSNs with real-time sharing, mark-up, annotation and commentary.

As noted in a previous post, by integrating collaboration with a dynamic communication environment, Convofy actually creates new value for people working together to create any kind of digital product, such as text, images, and web pages. What does this mean?

  • It means that you can upload any of the most common desktop file types (Office files, PDF, RTF, etc.) and highlight, annotate and comment directly on their content – directly in the document (as faithfully rendered by Convofy). Highlight a sentence that needs attention, and add a comment directly.
  • It means you can share with your group or organization an image or a photo from over a dozen file types, including PNG, JPG and Photoshop. With the image uploaded, you can draw a circle around elements that need to be tweaked, and add comments to explain your reasoning.
  • It means you can share a link to any public web page, and Convofy will render the complete web page in its collaboration environment, where you can highlight text or images and comment on them. This is incredibly valuable for sharing ideas on the content of a site, whether its published page or a draft that you’re collaborating.

In Convofy, unlike any collaboration tool I’ve ever seem, comments are integrated directly into users’ activity stream – desktop or mobile – so you can more actively engage. And if you’re online at the same time as your colleagues, the collaborative work can proceed even faster through real-time messaging.

Having worked on great collaboration tools like Buzzword, I can say that this is revolutionary. It not only provides collaboration tools for a much broader range of file types, but it makes the annotations and comments immediately relevant and accessible. Your notice is alerted to changes and updates – you don’t have to think about going to look for them. In other words, collaboration enters the main stream.

Yammer et al still are useful and rewarding environments. But if you’re looking to extend your PSN to include real work, especially if you often comment or collaborate with your colleagues, Convofy goes to a level that those other tools can’t touch.


Written by tstaley

September 16, 2011 at 12:05 pm

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