Can't stuff the Web back in a box ...

April 19, 2009 · · Posted by Greg Lloyd

On April 16 2009 Oliver Marks wrote The CIA's Collaboration Growth Curve & IBM's Lotusphere ecosystem connecting three topics: 1) the transformation of the CIA's collaborative practices; 2) how this relates to the concept of the collaboration curve introduced by John Hagel III, John Seely Brown (JSB), and Lang Davison, and 3) his reaction to IBM's Lotusphere Comes to You roadshow event in San Francisco that day. It's a great post which motivated me to add a comment which I expanded a bit below.

I've added one key quote for context on my comment - please read Oliver's full post for his insightful analysis.

Oliver writes:

John Hagel III, John Seely Brown (JSB), and Lang Davison discuss their concept of ‘the collaboration curve‘" on, and there are some interesting parallels to the cultural and process challenges of the CIA’s historically deep rooted processes, as they relate to Intellipedia.

There’s a classic story in economics primers illustrating the power of network effects. It tells how the first fax machine gave little value to its owner–after all, there was no one else with whom to send and receive faxes. As time went by, however, the value of that first machine increased as other people bought fax machines, and soon its owner could send faxes to the far corners of the earth, and receive them in return.

The point of the story is how the value of a node in a network rises exponentially as more nodes are added to it. These are called network effects.

Now let’s add a twist to the story. What would happen if, at the same time more fax machines joined the network, each machine rapidly improved its performance? The result would be an amplifying effect on the first level of exponential performance. One exponential effect occurs from growth in the number of nodes. A second amplifying effect arises from the improving performance of the machines themselves.

Fax machines, of course, don’t perform better as you add more of them to a network. But people and institutions do. And that’s where the concept of network effects gets more interesting–when we apply it to how people might perform better.

Oliver -- I think the three parts of this post fit together very well, particularly the network effects and the collaboration curve theme.

The JH, JSB, and LD quotes make the point: People and institutions are the 'nodes' that can enable a collaboration network to perform better as you add more of them to a social network ('social' in the broad sense - not party time).

But I think it's also important to note that the Web has become an open platform that allows the work product of collaboration networks to be created, linked, annotated, signaled, searched and analyzed at scale that would have been unimaginable in the heyday of Lotus Notes. In that respect the Web *is* like the "self-improving fax machine" whose limits we won't see for a very long time.

You muse: "... on the idea that the agility of modern enterprise collaboration techniques and technologies are arguably far more powerful when consciously assembled to achieve given objectives, as opposed to people attempting to work within the manufactured framework of a product suite, when watching the Lotus demos."

I believe that's right. In every previous generation hypertext system, the ability to read, search, link and communicate came with a terrible price: it might work well, but only if you were willing to put everything you wanted to work with into some sealed box, and convince everyone you wanted to work with to use the same box.

Ironically most successful collaboration box that the Web allowed people and institutions to escape was -- Lotus Notes. If IBM focuses on building a product suite rather than a platform that works with and like the web I think there's a problem.

See Enterprise 2.0 - Letting hypertext out of its box
based on a 2007 debate / discussion between - Mike Gotta and Andrew McAfee.

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