I'm in Hong Kong on some personal business and have had some alone time to think about our research direction. One of the things we have been doing lately at PARC is understanding more about the past work on collaboration, and how it might be changed (or not) by Web2.0 design principles. We have been talking to Gary and Judy Olson, who are recognized experts in collaboration systems and models for large science remote laboratories formed by scientists across many institutions. These laboratories (called collaboratories by the Olsons) are a great way to understand what works and what doesn't work in the real world, when CSCW and distant collaboration technologies are put to the test and used in real everyday scientific work. These studies are interesting because they're real 'living laboratories' and scientists engaged in these collaborations because it is necessary to do real work.
Interestingly, one of the best articles that summarizes their work is written by Technology Review (found here). Studying more than 200 collaboratories, the Olsons found that there are a number of pre-requisites for successful collaboration:
- Make sure your research community is ready
- Tackle big questions
- Get each individual participant on board
- Gear up for major technical challenges
- Put enough resources into project management
- Establish a common vocabulary
- Patience, visionary planning and stable management.
What's perhaps most interesting about this list is the amount of common sense it contains, and how it would be impossible to escape these pre-requisites even in Web2.0 collaboration systems. I find it interesting intellectual exercise to apply these requirements to successful Web2.0 systems (such as Wikipedia, delicious, and digg) to see if they meet these requirements.