Ah, memories. I remember the late, great Eighties, early in my analyst career, when I had my first brush with what was later known as “groupware.” It was a LAN-based package, “The Coordinator,” from Action Technologies. The architecture of the software wasn’t as important as the linguistic theory on which it was built: the notion that groups cultivate intelligence by structuring their internal conversations to achieve common goals.

Essentially, the package required people to tag every e-mail they sent based on whether it constituted a discussion of possibilities, a request for clarification, or a request for action—and it tracked these threads so that everybody knew the goal-oriented status of every conversation. As you can probably guess, this was a heavy-handed way of getting people to come to agreement. Software shouldn’t dictate how people choose to interact: real-world conversation’s far too complex and convoluted for that. Most people don’t like being forced to rephrase or reconceptualize how they communicate with others. In fact, most of us users simply defaulted to sending messages that discussed open-ended possibilities, rather than engage in a fussy protocol of formal requests and offers.

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