January 1, 2014

The collaboration myth

The tools of tomorrow, online collaboration tools, will be non-hierarchical, rebellious and chaotic – yet, astonishingly natural. (Written in 2005)

The collaboration myth

The myth of organizing, sharing information and collaborating with others has plagued the computer industry since its inception.

Computers promised to organize and classify everything for us. Databases were the ultimate filing system for data and information. VisiCalc organized numbers in unique ways and gave us the ability to do math and accounting more efficiently. Windows allowed us to organize information and files in a visual environment that mimicked our vision of how we organize papers in an office; in filing cabinets. Word processors let us type and revise documents faster and then store them into these virtual filing cabinets.

But, in spite of these advances, we didn’t realize that this was all backwards. We don’t naturally store and organize information (in our brains) like filing cabinets, databases or computers. Our brain isn’t a computer (in spite of it being called the “ultimate super computer“). Instead, we live chaotically and our brains operate chaotically. We store information randomly. We recall and process information through random word associations, names, dates, events, scents and emotions and vague intuitions. It wasn’t until the maturity of Search that a medium finally started to mimic how our brains work and how people live their lives. Perhaps this is why Google (and other search tools) resonates so personally with its users? Search tools think like we think.

Today, the tools available in the mainstream are linear, structured, fixed and unnatural. The tools of tomorrow, online collaboration tools,  will be non-hierarchical, rebellious and chaotic – yet, astonishingly natural.

We need more tools that think like we think. We need tools that embrace chaos. We need tools that work like we work and live like we live. When we have more tools that embrace chaos, then we’ll start collaborating.

Originally written June 28, 2005.