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Practical Internet Groupware by Jon Udell

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The Dynamics of Discussion

No matter which conferencing tools you use, effective collaboration doesn’t just happen by itself. You have to create the right environment by designing scoped zones that support departmental, companywide, and public discussion. You have to show people when, why, and how to operate within these scopes and move among them. You have to understand and demonstrate the habits of information layering and packaging that amplify the power of the conferencing medium. Even when you can do all these things, realize that it’s just plain hard to get to critical mass on an intranet. The Internet’s virtual communities are made up of self-selected individuals, drawn from a huge population, who share common interests and a burning desire to collaborate. We don’t choose our coworkers, and although we have to collaborate with them, we are not always as enthusiastic about doing so.

To push intranet collaboration over its activation threshold, realize that a conferencing system is just a central repository of semistructured information. When that repository delivers valuable services, such as anywhere, anytime navigation and search, it’s just a better filesystem, one that meets the requirements of individuals as well as of groups. Appeals to enlightened self-interest tend to work better than appeals to the common good. Look for ways to make participation in discussions intrinsically rewarding.

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