I’ve been in the business of creating groupware applications and learning management software (LMS, which is the substitute of groupware in the educational world) long enough to understand what they are talking about in the Many-to-Many fame.
Groupware and LMS are both measured the same way: comparing feature lists, amount of features and other parameters useful when selling them to the management.
In the end, the users are not really willing to use these applications unless they are paid for doing so or there is some other benefit achieved through them. There is nothing sexy with a groupware application. Nothings that gets you laid.
Management is not (yet) interested in the social capital some of the software tools might be able to generate or how they are naturally able to network people together. They are interested in how these tools make certain mechanical business issues more efficient (save money and time) and how they are able to control it. They compare feature sheets where the features are listed like..
- does it have a Todo application?
- does it have a Project Management feature?
- does it allow the teacher to track where students are spending their time?
It’s all about increased structure. Control. Features. Cost savings.
Nothing bad about that. What is wrong here is that people stop using when the money stops flowing. That is the brokenated nature of groupware applications.
There is also a problem in over simplifying the process of selecting a tool. You simply just can’t make a feature comparison chart and check if a groupware application has a feature or not. For example, if you have a LMS called Fronter in your comparison chart and there is a column called “Weblog”, often you simply just check that “Ok, Fronter has a Weblog”. *check*.
If you look more closely, the so called weblog you have in Fronter has nothing that makes weblog applications cool, sexy and social. In fact, there is nothing you could brag about: it lacks 90% of the characteristics of weblog applications in general that make them so sexy these days.
It’s a poor substitute in the comparison chart simply to get the vendor ahead in feature checklist game as the management is able to say, “We have heard weblogs have benefits in education as our teachers are asking for them and students are already using them in their free time: Fronter also has a weblog”. *check*.
The reality is that none of the users are willing to use the weblog tool in Fronter for blogging if they are not paid to do so. They use Blogger, Movable Type or Nucleus instead, software that is truly social software and is able to tap one into global conversations. These tools were built with a different mindset.
Building social capital through the daily use of collaborative software is underestimated these days. What managers are forgetting is that the markets are conversations and thanks to the internet, the markets are getting smarter all the time, requiring smarter conversations between companies and customers. A link between the conversation among the customers and the work that is done internally in a company has to be supported.
Ironical comment in the Many-to-Many blog by Will Davies:
“I gave a talk to a global consultancy firm a couple of years ago about what social software could do for them. I suggested that, given that they have several thousand over-worked employees in one building who never speak to each other, the best way to build social capital would be to create an internal dating site. They thought I was joking.”
I have worked on an Open Source groupware/LMS.
Not anymore. Nowadays I’m working on social software.
I’m thinking about social capital and smarter conversations instead. I’m thinking about social added-value and smarter conversations instead of software feature checklists. I’m thinking about how my software could get you laid. I guess I wouldn’t be able to think like this if I hadn’t first learned everything about groupware and LMS.