A Short (biased) history of Collaboration - II

The story until now…

This is the second of three parts in a series on Collaboration. The first of the three articles presented a quick introduction to the historical aspects of collaboration. Collaboration has made the best use of the fastest communication methods available in any given era. The article now continues with collaborative techniques and a critical analysis of the current scenarios.


eMails were the first instrument of information exchange on the web. Of course, they were built to serve that way. Information flew back and forth with ‘suitable’ comments, modifications suggestions, revisions and what not. The process of creation received a shot in the arm. But soon, spammers joined the fray and eMails, once the lifeline of the internet, were reduced to annoying snippets of information lodged between pieces of Junk – like an annoying strand of edible fibre stuck between your molars.

Usenet was popular as an information broadcast medium. ‘Newcasts’ were read daily by thousands and millions of users on the world wide web. Links were exchanged and offices discussed the hottest usenet topics overs steaming cups of coffee. eMail was the prime information exchange medium. Many a discussion happened over eMail. But, owing to spam, and fragmentation of context, Usenet discussions had a short life-time. Even today, one can find a lot of posts hanging without a child thread.

Then came blogs and comments. Blogs were simply an extension of the Usenet concept. With an attractive interface and the subsequent ‘children’ appearing as comments to the original post, Blogs served as attractive modifications to the fora-like look of discussion groups. Moreover, the ‘author’ of the blog held exclusive rights over his ‘story’. And the commenst that ensued after were merely discussions, however, intelligent (or not) they may have been.

The next step in evolution had to be something that combined the features of the three tools/utilities – eMail, Usenet, and Blogs. And so, the Wiki was born.


The Wiki had the interface of a blogs, the versatility of eMail and the usability of the Usenet fora. Anybody who wanted to make a correction could do so. All he needed was a login. People are hailing Wikis as the next step in the evolution of the collaborative process.

This is not far from the truth. Wikis do offer you the ability to co-create. For the uninitiated few, here’s how wikis work: A member puts up a post (stub) on a Wiki board. Another member with additional information, adds his thoughts to the post, and they are incorporated into the main post. A third member, notices the discrepancies in the underlying concepts and edits the post accordingly.

The co-creative process progresses asynchronously until the final blend of ideas and concepts is found. However, it is worth noting that all Wiki posts are always stubs. Simply because, information is never complete. The deeper one delves into the subject, the more information is uncovered. No Wiki post is ever a final edition.


Many extensions of the Wiki-concept (but essentially containing the same fundamental element) have sprung up. The Writeboard is just one of them. Writeboard allows you to create and save edited versions of documents and allows you to compare any two versions online. Ñandu is a web-based Office application that allows you to edit and co-create Office documents online.[UPDATE: Seems like Ñandu was one of the casualties of the second dot-com bust…] Instacoll goes a step further (or backwards?) and allows you to edit your Microsoft Office documents in realtime. Instacoll relies on a P2P model wherein participating users are invited to download a P2P client that connects two (or more) users in real time for synchronized Collaboration.

(To be concluded.)