Friday, October 05, 2007

Selfish Collaboration?

With some Web 2.0 tools, people are often working with parallel goals rather than common goals. For example, many people tag their own bookmarks for their own selfish purposes, and any resulting benefits to other people (network effects) are merely happy side-effects. Angela Ashenden of MWD asks Is this really collaboration?

One of the comments to her post suggests a distinction between "social" and "collaborative", but I'm not convinced this really solves the problem. A lot of Web 2.0 activity doesn't really count as social either.

A key question here is whether collaboration has to be conscious and deliberate. Angela thinks that if we are to take the word literally then co-involvement has to be conscious, with explicit intention. This would presumably rule out various forms of asymmetric collaboration.

But in a large organization different people may have different levels of awareness of what is going on, and intentions can sometimes be pretty non-specific or half-hearted. So someone might post some material on the intranet with a vague hope that this might prove useful to somebody or other. If there is an explicit but weak intention, it might just about count as collaboration according to Angela's definition, but of course it's a pretty feeble kind of collaboration.

However, many successful collaborations involve people with conflicting intentions; sometimes it is precisely this conflict that drives creativity, even though this may be largely implicit.

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