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3 "New" Online Collaboration Tools

It's been an interesting few weeks in the consumer "online collaboration" world.

If you're reading this from within the (not so) cozy walls of a company thinking that the crazy, fast moving, unfocused consumer world of online collaboration won't affect you for a long time then I'd recommend you stop, take a look around at the newbies within your organisation and see where they spend most of their online time. And if your (IT Dept) response is more site blocking think of it as another brick in the dam's wall holding back a river of online services flowing faster and faster - "she's gonna blow captain!".

And so, you need to know what's already coming through the cracks in your wall and more importantly what is just around the corner. Once you know you can then divert the flow you want, use it for the betterment of your company and discretely let those parts of collaboration you don't believe will work to flow into dark, still pools of nothingness.

So, what's coming -

1: Knowledge / Answer Computational Machines

In a nutshell and from them:
Wolfram|Alpha's long-term goal is to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone. We aim to collect and curate all objective data; implement every known model, method, and algorithm; and make it possible to compute whatever can be computed about anything. Our goal is to build on the achievements of science and other systematizations of knowledge to provide a single source that can be relied on by everyone for definitive answers to factual queries.

Despite the "Google killer" tag the media placed upon them they never claim to be such, well not publicly anyway, they seemed to have done better than Cuil (still going!) and made it passed the first week. There are many humorous "failures" and as equally numerous "wins".

How does Wolfram|Alpha sit with collaboration?
I believe it will be used as a tool to smooth the waters of collaboration. Imagine having the ability to ask any(ish) question within your organisation and get THE answer that everyone can see and act upon - we would have the "one source of truth" utopia all knowledge/information managers crave for.

But hold on, this is not a one-horse race with Microsoft's Bing [video] soon available to to give us all our answers. And Google's moving this way having already released "search options" for it's standard search and preparing Google Squared ("coming soon ...") in the wings.

2: Aggregation + Conversations

It's all chatter, chatter, chatter online now-a-days.
Facebook was overtaken by Twitter in the "cool as" stakes and of course there is bound to be something else that will trump Twitter.

I am of the view that it's not just about talking though, collaboration is built upon 3 main pillars one of which is "good communication" and that represents a two way flow of information ... someone has to be listening.

But if everyone is having chattering is many places (Twitter and Facebook are the obvious but saving a Delicious bookmark is a form of a "shout out") how on earth are we all to keep a track of it AND respond?

One way is to get in amongst it by signing up for everything and spending every waking hour tracking everyone. RSS can, to be fair, assist here.

Another is to stick with one main service/community (Twitter is probably the current favourite) and follow the herd as they move around the services. Works, sort of but I find that the outlying services can have some of the best conversations which are quieter, more focused and not so "whiny".

My favoured response to this problem is to use FriendFeed (or equivalent, is there one) in conjunction with Google Reader (no, I do not hold with the view that RSS is dead!).

In a nutshell let the conversation happen wherever it wants, bring it to me, respond/join in and have it pushed back out. This means I don't interrupt others chosen way of working but can join in as I want.

3: Realtime, Open Collaboration

Finally there is Google Wave.

And whilst this is so new I see it as another step towards true online collaboration - it may even be the approach/technology that finally breaks the email dependency we all have.

It's so new that all I can really do is point you to Mashable's excellent Google Wave: A Complete Guide and the official Google Blog announcement before letting you decide for yourselves.

Oh, and this Google product has come out of Sydney (Australia) from the fine folks that brought us Google Maps ... it's a large reason why this excites me as that team seem to know how we want to work!