The Rise of Social Documents

I’ve had a hard time finding the best way to describe an emerging technology, despite having bet a large part of my career on its potential. Worse, attempts by others to deliver applications that are ‘close enough’ have clouded the waters so much that I find myself having to start conversations not about my own company’s product but with the more visible alternatives and then contrast ours from there. As an example, I know I can count on any executive to be <somewhat> familiar with Google Docs – but not that they’ll appreciate the degree of difference between consumer grade and professional grade versions of collaborative authoring.

That’s what those of us in technology have called it for years: “Collaborative Authoring.” It has been ’emerging’ for years. And, the world has reacted with indifference. Had the world been inspired to do further investigation into the potential for this technology – by perhaps finding it included in the operating system or apps store for devices like the iPad – the world might have done more than shrug. I’m not saying this as a self-serving attempt to promote my company’s version of a product. I’m saying it as an only partly self-serving attempt to encourage those who work with documents, email, or computing devices of any kind to believe that they could quite literally gain back hours of lost time and some analogous increment of reduced frustration (grrs?) by changing how they collaborate.

Everybody collaborates, by the way. The problem isn’t getting it to happen; instead, it’s undoing all the damage done over the past several decades that resulted in making it happen poorly. An example of this is email. Had we received any training or change management, we mightn’t continue to attach very important confidential contracts saved in Microsoft Word to outbound messages and also send a copy to our personal account hosted by a 3rd party. We would know better. Because it would feel wrong. Like biting tin foil. Which none of us has ever actually done – given that aluminum foil displaced it a lifetime ago. But my point is that we need to set a course to make Wrong behaviors intuitive where presently they feel Right. Using email presently ‘feels like’ biting potato chips/chocolate/french fries and we need to instruct users over time that it should instead ‘feel like’ hearing fingernails on a blackboard or stepping on a cockroach. Which, for most people, would be deterrents.

So. Who are these ‘most people’? They are the overwhelming majority that make decisions supported by documents. I’ll write more about this in my next post. Meanwhile, your thoughts about Collaborative Authoring – whether the name itself, impediments toward adoption, or existing applications – are welcomed.

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About Toby Bell

Toby has over 25 years of leadership experience in technology strategy, analysis, development, and delivery. He's managed people, products, projects, and profits equally well. His work history ranges from marketing and communications to software design and development to global consulting to technology research and analysis to business leadership. He has provided strategic advice to many companies; has written a strong body of research; is widely quoted across technology and business media; and has been a keynote speaker for Ernst & Young, Arthur Andersen, Gartner, and their clients. Toby Bell has spent over 30 years as a global technology executive with experience ranging across enterprise technology strategy, analysis, development, and delivery. His perspectives about idealizing the interplay between people and emerging content, analytics, and process technologies stem from a balanced career as an enterprise end-user, industry analyst, and vendor in this evolving marketplace. Toby has provided strategic advice to many companies; has written a strong body of research; is widely quoted across technology and business media; and has been a keynote speaker on behalf of Ernst & Young, Arthur Andersen, Gartner, IBM, AIIM, and their respective clients.
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