Chuck (from EMC) has a nice post on their behind the firewall experiments with social collaboration, and I particularly liked this quote:
One of the ways people can work together is around a document. People contribute, edit, revise, approve and distribute documents, reports, and so on.
Sure, people are interacting, but it’s in the context of a specific document or task at hand. As an example, it’s pretty hard to carry on a useful conversation using the “track changes” feature of Microsoft Word.
EMC’s Documentum implements a document-centric collaboration model around eRoom. Microsoft’s SharePoint offering does something similar.
As a social computer, this is better, but we’re still communicating by pushing documents at each other, with some workflow around it. Imagine if you went to a party, and the only way you could converse is by pushing a powerpoint at someone, who would read it, comment, and push it back at you.
That’s not the way people work together in the real world, is it?
Years ago my team and I designed a collaborative office environment, everyone was co-located and the physical environment was carefully designed to improve ad-hoc social collaboration, without compromising personal productivity. I still use this environment as my benchmark when I think about how far virtual collaboration has to go!