Before reading on, I seriously advise you to explore the section "Web 2.0 Essentials", where I have compiled a general introduction to the phenomenon and the greatest advantages and features of Wikis, Blogs, Tagging etc. The pages also provide links to extremely illustrative and coherent examples of different practical applications of these tools in existing organizations.

A summary of all that needs to be done in order to enhance collaboration between and within research groups and firms:

  • Ease and speed up information flows
    • Companies would be able affect the research focus more easily
    • Researchers would be able to get the data they need from the companies more easily
    • New ideas, changes, news, and most importantly, the results would spread more quickly
    • It would be easier to find out whether studies on specific subjects have already been done, and thus, eliminate overlapping research or alternatively find a helping hand
  • Make the process of locating experts easier
    • Implementing a social aspect to information
  • Cooperation via emails and occasional meetings is not efficient
    • Need for a platform that truly enables collaboration and sharing of knowledge and ideas

Now let me paint you a picture of a wiki-based portal, operating as a platform for knowledge-creation, sharing of information, news and ideas, and above all - collaboration.

The picture on the right illustrates this new platform for researchers and companies (academic and business worlds in general) to cooperate with each other. It would feature:

  • Main Page with a mashup of links to different sections of the wiki, recent blog posts and comments, recent documents uploaded, most popular articles, external news feeds from e.g. certain newspapers etc. The sky is the limit with what one can compile here to make the Main Page as functional as possible. The idea behind the mashup of different items is to provide a space where all fresh content can be checked with a single glance, and make navigating further both intuitive and easy. The Main Page is a page for the whole 'community'. You can of course also create public spaces for everyone who isn't logged in to the system, and thus establish more visibility to the outside world.
  • Project spaces: Secure collaboration areas for every group. Access to these spaces would only be granted to those specified by the space admin. Project areas would include e.g. a list of all group members and links to their personal pages in the wiki, project blog, project management tools (action items, calendar...). Project spaces are where the group members, researchers and company affiliates, can plan, discuss, innovate and share ideas and material (e.g. recommend interesting articles, links..) related to the research project. Here researchers cooperating with each other can write their documents collaboratively, without constantly emailing new drafts back and forth. The information and drafts are always up-to-date.
  • Powerful navigational tools, including search, links, tags, categories etc.
  • A personal page for all members. The page is fully customizable by the person, meaning that s/he can add desired pictures, documents and profile texts. Of course certain consistency may be reasonable to make it easily comprehendable to others too. The page would also contain links to all recent documents, blog posts and comments of the person, his or her tags and bookmarks and a list of the projects s/he is a member in, all updated automatically of course.
    • One of the main reasons for the personal pages is to make it easy to find experts on different subjects. They also add a personal aspect to all information, as you can easily check who the people behind the texts really are. This makes contacting them considerably easier, and thus creates and exploits "The Weak Ties" more efficiently (see McAfee: The Ties that Find).
  • Public, community and project Blogs.
    • Public blogs could be visible to people not logged in, and would thus serve as a communication channel to the outside world, creating interest and possibly raising people's awareness of things the community decides to promote. Good public blogs have been found to be extremely useful for e.g. media & public relation or strengthening the commitment of interest groups.
    • Community-wide blogging (access to logged in users) can be used as an interactive communication and announcement channel. The possibility of commenting other people's posts makes blogs a great platform for discussion and exchange of ideas and views. Important, or simply interesting posts keep the cooperation alive, and people know what other members are up to. A lot of the time even members of the same research group don't know what the others have been, or are studying at the moment.
    • A project's internal blog, once again, enhances communication. Announcements don't have to be made via endless emails, which makes cooperation more flexible, easier and less disturbing. Comments result into a logical and coherent conversation.
    • To make the following of various blogs more efficient and easy, people can subscribe to the blog feeds they especially want to follow (see RSS or Atom feeds)
    • Read more about blogs and their potential uses in "Blogs"
  • Various plugins enabling e.g. external feeds, videos, spreadsheets, graphs, PowerPoint-presentations, mapping applications etc. Again, the main purpose is to make information easily accessible and illustrative. The plugins enable extensive customizations of, for example, the team or personal spaces.
  • Possibility of uploading even large files. This, once again, means less email and fewer shared documents lying somewhere on someones computer. This is also an important security issue, as the files are now located in a secure database, not on a laptop that could easily be stolen or lost. The information is always accessible when there is an internet connection available.
  • Real time conversations made possible by an instant messaging application (for instance AOL, Google Talk or MSN Messenger). Teams could agree to arrange quick chat-meetings, reducing need for emails and actual meetings. The applications don't necessarily have to embedded into the wiki platform, though.
  • A collaborative tagging system, where users assign the documents and articles words they find best describe the content, thus categorizing it according to ''their own'' vocabulary. Tagging makes it easier to find relevant issues and to discover new linkages between information. Groups can also have joint tagging and social bookmarking accounts, thus making it easier to follow for example colleagues' interests and find new significant information related to the industry and subject. For instance (a social bookmarking web service for storing, sharing, and discovering web bookmarks) could be integrated to the wiki.

For a concrete example of a wiki-based corporate intranet with all of these aspects integrated into one single, user-friendly, social system, see Avenue A Razorfish: Wiki-based intranet - Slideshare presentation. This is exactly what I am talking about!

For more detailed reasons and explanations underlying the transformational importance of these new methods of collaborating see Enterprise 2.0. The section goes on to further explain the phenomena, concentrating especially on how companies could utilize the tools in question. The transformation is not always all that simple, though, since for example the prevailing corporate culture and various technological issues have to be taken into careful consideration. The risks, benefits and requirements need to be assessed before planning the implementation of the various social software.

As these same things mostly also aply to the cooperation between research groups and companies, I highly recommend to examine the pages related to the corporate applications of the technologies (Enterprise 2.0).

See also

  • No labels