While writing a short review on Office 365 I noticed an important conceptual difference on sharing documents with for instance Google Apps or storing a document in a shared location as for instance SharePoint. I needed to think about the difference, the advantages and disadvantages of both solutions and I concluded that you actually need both. I will explain this in some more detail, based on the differentiation between formal and informal collaboration.
For formal collaboration it's essential that the team, or group of involved people, is clearly defined and all have access to the same information. Formal collaboration is often embedded in an organizational or project structure and isn't changing very frequently, minimizing the overhead associated with maintaining the list of team members, access rights and other administrative tasks. A well defined shared location for all the relevant content is good way to facilitate sharing and information transfer between the various team members. It provides clarity and a 'single source of the truth'.
Informal collaboration is much more an organic process. It starts with seed, an idea, a rough presentation script and first needs to be nurtured before it can be shared with the team. The nurturing and polishing might involve team members, but could as well involve others and is often based on early stage interaction between individuals over sharing within the team. It requires the ability to share a single document with others in the broadest sense, often someone who is not part of the formal team, before it gets visible for the rest of the team.
Efficient collaboration between people includes both formal and informal collaboration. The formal part is required to measure the deliverables and achievements while the informal part is required in the creative process to reach the deliverables. An efficient document collaboration system needs to facilitate both, unfortunately not many do this today.
The reason why email is still the most used medium for sharing documents is it's informal nature. I can send email to anybody independent of any organizational or project structure. It's the equivalent of running into someone at the water cooler.
Independent of the various document collaboration methods the key challenge today is to find all the documents that require my interaction. This can be a bunch of freely shared documents or a collection of shared locations. I still need to know and remember where to find the various documents. For project x we use a SharePoint team site, with one external speaker I work on the script with Google Docs and the other uses Dropbox. All documents are relevant to me, but how to I remember where everything is? What really is required a an aggregation of all the shared documents and locations to create one single point of access to all the documents relevant to me.
How do you keep track of the documents relevant to you? Give me suggestions on how to manage this efficiently in the comments below.
Image: Tomé Jorge