Or Purple Will Rise Again!
I went to the London Wiki Wednesday yesterday. Jeremy gave an overview of TiddlySpace. Afterwards there was some discussion of how it is different from other so-called collaboration platforms (Sharepoint being one of the examples of things that do it wrong compared with TiddlySpace’s version of right). I suggested that the difference can be discovered by thinking about which nouns have a primary position when describing or thinking about the platform. I suggested that whereas Sharepoint gives primacy to groups and documents, TiddlySpace likes individuals and information.
On the train ride home I realized that this maps well with my views on the actions that are occurring when people augment their collaboration with tools. Obviously there is a group involved—or it wouldn’t be collaboration; but the interaction between tool and information pivots on individuals. Some one reads something, or writes something, or synthesizes something. Each individual member of the group accesses that something, that granule of information, and integrates it into their understanding.
Therefore the job of a collaboration tool is to assist in the creation of granules and augment their distribution and presentation to the individual members of the team so that they can then be used to a) integrate them into their own knowledge or understanding, b) use them to create more. If a system is architected at the level of a document, it is too high level: composition and decomposition of the granules of information which make up the document becomes a major task in the use of the system. Besides being a time waster this is an ineffective use of the computational and cognitive resources that are available.
Computers are really good at moving around and re-presenting information in arbitrary ways. They are not good at composing meaning out of disparate parts. People, on the other hand are really good at composing meaning out of parts; all day long that’s what the brain does. It seems likely that to a very large extent, spending time composing documents for transmittal is a waste of time. We (humans) can and will synthesize our own composition (effectively a virtual mental document) from the relevant parts, especially when able to use tools that allow us to move things around and play with re-presentations.