The collaboration conundrum: what’s wrong with REPLY ALL anyway?

I’ve been trying to follow the development of a few companies that offer online collaboration tools in the form of so-called ‘secure online workspaces’ for project development.Of course I’m looking at these tools with an eye on developer collaboration as I’m meeting some key chaps on the Visual Studio 2010 team on Wednesday – remember, Microsoft wants to, “Democratise ALM …(to) bring all the members of a development organisation into the application development life cycle.

I’ve been trying to follow the development of a few companies that offer online collaboration tools in the form of so-called ‘secure online workspaces’ for project development.

Of course I’m looking at these tools with an eye on developer collaboration as I’m meeting some key chaps on the Visual Studio 2010 team on Wednesday – remember, Microsoft wants to, “Democratise ALM …(to) bring all the members of a development organisation into the application development life cycle.”

But there are other players out there such as Huddle who play the hosted project management forum card so strongly that they say, “Don’t ‘reply all’. Use discussion forums to brainstorm ideas.” I believe this also contains a similar online document hosting service to Google docs too.

But I’m not so sure. I work a project with people from San Jose to Australia and I need people to use email alerts to tell me what’s going on, sometimes from a BlackBerry or other smartphone (so that they can view pdfs and Word docs) while they are on the hoof. Yes I see that in the case of Huddle there is a notification option via dashboard, email and RSS. But isn’t this overkill to just a tiny degree?

I need to retain editorial control over the pages that I work on and working with Microsoft TRACK CHANGES can be hard enough when you’ve got someone who just has to stick their oar in and make some suggestions so that they are seen as a valid member of the team. Sticking my documents up online for even more feedback is not really what I want.

Build motorways and they will fill up with cars right? Create more online work management forums and we just create work for ourselves. Don’t we?

This reminds me of a manager pal of mine, who, when faced with over lengthy mails from busy-body colleagues told me that he likes to simply reply, “Noted.”

This is a frustrating subject for me, as I want to be more positive. After all, LinkedIn uses Huddle as one of it’s chosen apps. To top that, the company has a small but growing developer zone – a prerequisite that some mid-market database or SOA companies (for the sake of an example) fail to create and promote.

But hey – who I am to knock collaboration tools? Everyone from IBM to university start up projects have embraced the concepts of information share, unified communications and community interaction.

Perhaps I’m thinking of a C programmer pal of mine who was looking for work and turned his nose up at the thought of any teaching or tuition roles by saying, “Well, it’s a good job, but I don’t really like people.” So there you have it: collaboration without personal intercommunication.