In that vein, I've been asked lately to look at where to draw the line between simple communication tools -- like phone, SMS and email -- and the project and document-oriented collaborative platforms, notably SharePoint.
In one sense, it probably doesn't matter where we draw the line as individuals because we put all our favored tools together to work across distance and time the best ways we know.
But now, with so many directions to pursue in social, new media and existing tools, you might also want to carve up the value of communication and collaboration to build an investment case on some kind of ROI.
You could create metrics on the use of collaboration platforms leading to new business in dollars, new projects by numbers or increased customer satisfaction from combined resources. You could look at knowledge retention and time to market.
Or, you could have a look at existing behavior and try to improve on the toolsets people spend most of their time with. That's where I stumbled over some work at Forrester Research where a team has been collecting collaborative behavioral data for some time.
I found it because Ted Schadler at Forrester had put out a paper on some counterintuitive collaborative predictions for this year. The one that caught my eye amid the furor over Facebook and Twitter and Yammer and LinkedIn was this: The email inbox gets even more important over time.
How so, you ask? Well, even Facebook offers email now, says Schadler, and mobile mail has done a lot for the likes of Blackberry et al. But even more so, the inbox is the conduit for all the activity feeds, (an industry term Ted introduced me to) that drive all your Facebook and Twitter and Yammer and Lotus Connections activity. How else would you know who answered your remark unless you spent your day at Facebook?
"It depends a little on the culture of your organization to say which tools you value most and which you spend the most time in," says Schadler. "But information without communication is kind of dumb, and communication without information that is managed and searchable is also kind of dumb."
When you look at the next generation of inboxes that are coming from, say, Facebook in the consumer landscape or micro-blogging activity feeds and NewsGator and Lotus Connections, it's really no different than an email inbox -- except it's not universal, Schadler reminded me. "You can't send it to a customer or partner very easily, you can't get it on a mobile device or archive it very easily. So when you net that all out you see all these activity feeds showing up in an email inbox as an option."
There is a new survey in the field, but the reigning activity numbers from Forrester's 2009 survey say this: On an ongoing hourly usage basis, the inbox beats all other application usage by a large margin, followed by the Web browser, the word processing application and the spreadsheet.
There has been huge adoption of SharePoint too, but when you add up newer numbers from Forrester for all the team sites and other file systems or document workspaces, only 20 percent of employees use those things compared to 93 percent for email.
I don't doubt that this survey will trend over time, but I do feel a bit relieved that my own activity isn't unlike most people's, even as new must have Web apps arrive daily. For now, my email and document apps are bulletproof, they put food on the table and are not to be messed with.
I'll watch for the new and interesting tools and behaviors out there. I'll build my contacts and networks, and probably resent the separate platforms that want to command attention I don't always have. Like Ted said, I'll mostly watch these things through my inbox.
And when I feel an urge to complain on a snow day like today, I'll just turn up the space heater and watch the postman struggle to that other inbox on my front door.