Wikis + RSS – the future of open collaboration platforms?


David Berlind has an intriguing post on his Between the Lines blog about how wikis with RSS notification of changes are set to become the standard collaboration platform within organizations.

David has some spot-on observations about the use of proprietary systems (including email systems like Notes or Exchange) for collaboration:

When you strip collaboration down to its bare essence, you have people, you have some record of their collaboration (eg: documents), and generally, there’s some way of letting those who are collaborating know when something has happened or is about to happen (notification). The problem was, and to a large extent, still is that there are different and proprietary systems and protocols to technologically support all the activities associated with collaboration.

Collaboration is often too formal. In other words, you don’t collaborate until someone says, “OK, let’s collaborate.” In order to say “Let’s collaborate” you need to schedule a meeting with a proprietary group calendaring system. Letting everyone know that you’re about to collaborate requires notification which 99 times out of 100 depends on email. Then once you start collaborating, a record of that collaboration has to be documented using a proprietary documentation technology (eg: word processors, spreadsheets, or presentation applications).

Even worse, there’s another proprietary system (a content management system) for storing, searching for, and retrieving those documents; something that happens in the course of collaboration. Something else that happens in the course of collaboration is someone improves those documents at which point, they must be passed around again for another round of collaboration. Passed around on the proprietary email system using oft-forked threads of e-mail that resulted in out-of-synch document changes. To add insult to injury, the e-mail feedback loop which may or may not have involved revisions was completely out of context of the collaborative activities themselves and required tools that were overkill given the requirements. At the end of the day, collaborating involves a bunch of walled gardens of technology that all too often, are retrofitted to the art of collaboration and that end up being manually integrated.

He goes on to observe that the use of wikis and notification can replace much of the use of email and content management systems:

With RSS as both the notification mechanism and the content subscription mechanism, you basically have a single technology that takes e-mail, e-mail attachments, and far too many round-trips (of email, to fully facilitate the collaboration) completely out of the equation.

With wikis, which can notify you when their content is changed via RSS, not only can the collaborators use 95% standard technology (there is no standard wiki markup language, yet), any and all virtual expression of the collaborative activities (new content, revisions to that content, annotations, comments, approvals, etc.) happen in the context of the collaborative environment. It’s all in the same one — one that involves almost no proprietary parts.There’s no jumping back and forth between systems or even integration of multiple systems. No word processor. No special content management system. No e-mail. No strapped-on transfer stations to get it all working together.

You open a Web page on your browser, you review it’s content, you make changes to the content, record the reason for those changes, press the submit button, and in one fell-swoop, a document is revised, a record of who revised it (and why) is made, and everybody else whose watching that document gets notified of the change through RSS.

It’s worth reading the whole article.

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