IS 512: Groupware/Virtual Collaboration

This was a very good class, as I learned a lot more than I expected and took away some experiences that will significantly help me and those I work for in the future. The interest in applications that allow groups to work together online has been growing, with technology being a limitation on what can be done. However, with advanced web developments, tools, infrastructure and abilities that lower the barrier for implementing this kind of application, this sector is now veritably exploding.

It was a tough quarter on a another level as I changed jobs after being in the same company for over 10 years. So I had to deal with interviewing and departure details, as well as, adjust to a new work place. Interestingly, the class had an immediate effect on my transition. In future interviews, I will be sure to enquire about a companies use of groupware and ways of collaborating virtually. As my new job has required me to work with team members who are located in different buildings and my new boss is in another state. Other valuable learning included a good overview of the current crop of groupware and the actual use of two groupware applications. This class also required a team project, which went really well, in part because of the groupware that we used.


We used Writely (now under google) to create a best practices document for using IM in the workplace. You can read the final paper here. Writely worked beautifully for allowing us to compile and edit the document, both synchronously and asynchronously. It had enough formatting features and extendibility to make working with as a team, simple and efficient. It still has some rough edges, but overall it was an excellent tool. It is unfortunately still in beta and not allowing new users. In fact, the only reason I had an account was I had checked it out maybe 6 months ago and did nothing with it at the time.

We had started the team project on another online document editor from the simple simons at 37signals called writeboard. I am a big fan of “less is more” design, but it doesn’t and shouldn’t apply to everything. Sometimes a complex process does require a complex solution. We quickly ran into limitations in writeboard, such as the lack of formatting and an ability to create and manage more than one document at a time. They do everything to fit what they need and if you like what they needed, then its good. If you need more, well suck it, because you just think you need more. Their simple is better philosophy is appealing, until you find simple is not enough. So we moved on to Writely and found the more that we needed. Fortunately, even though they don’t allow new sign-ups at this time, I could invite the other team members to join and everything worked out.

So other things I learned which related to the team project was how much I have grown accustomed to using IM. I did not use IM for a long time as I definitely was not into “meeting” people via IM. Eventually, though, enough of my coworkers used it that I realized it was sometimes easier to IM them about a simple question than to call or walk over to their desk. While my previous employer allowed IM, it was undirected and not encouraged. My current workplace uses IM in a very focused way, however they only allow it to be used internally (There is, of course, a way to IM externally, despite their best efforts to block it, which is discussed in the paper). So I went from one place where we could use IM freely and sometimes it related to work and/or helped deal efficiently with non-work issues, to another place where it is limited, but focused on enhancing work collaboration leaving other needs that could also be made more efficient by IM out. Oh, on a side note, the new MSN messenger client for the Mac works with the live communication server for internal only IM. Which was a huge thing for me as many of you know, I prefer the Mac.

In the end, I definitely see companies that learn to effectively use groupware and collaborate virtually as having an advantage over companies that don’t. Those that do it well, like companies that adopted disruptive new technologies in years past and found ways to use that tech to make them improve, will be able to build value that their competitors will have difficulty matching.

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