14 May 2017

6 Document Collaboration Methods…Compared

2017-05-16T17:01:44+00:00 May 14th, 2017|Collaboration, Email, Knowledge Management|Comments Off on 6 Document Collaboration Methods…Compared

Do you collaborate on documents with co-workers? I.e., do you edit the same doc or file (I use “docs” and “files” interchangeably herein) with one or more people sometimes?

Duh, who doesn’t, right?

Unless your company has strict policies, you probably have some options on how you share documents. You could use browser-based apps like Google Docs or Microsoft OfficeOnline. Or you could email file attachments around.

(I can’t believe I’m still writing about email file attachments for doc collab; but alas, status quo is hard to change.)

Different users have different preferences and different needs. Some are power spreadsheet users. Some don’t need every word processing bell and whistle. Some are always online when they work. Some travel. Even each individual user may even have different needs at different times.

Unfortunately, though, there’s no perfect way to collaborate on docs (yet), so I attempt herein to qualitatively (as objectively as I can) compare the six main ways you can edit a doc and share it with others to review and/or edit. You may use one method primarily, or you may use different methods depending on your current situation. Hopefully, this will help ensure you know your options and the impact to you and others.

Doc Collab Methods

First, let’s look at the 6 primary doc collaboration methods. The typical scenarios include desktop productivity apps (e.g., word processing, spreadsheets, presentations via Google Docs or Microsoft Office) and cloud storage providers (e.g., Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft Onedrive). But these concepts can apply more broadly to most apps and cloud storage.


Next, let’s look at the main trade-offs when considering each collaboration method.

Bottom Line

Unfortunately, there’s no perfect solution for all people in all situations.

If you don’t need the advanced capabilities available in the desktop app, and you don’t need the ability to edit offline, using the Web App version is usually a great solution.  Keep in mind, however, the context of “you.”  For example, and individual may only use 20% of a mature application’s (e.g., MS Excel) capabilities, but if different individuals use different 20%s, then the organization may need to enable the choice of using the desktop application.

Email is clearly not optimal for document collaboration or co-editing.  However, it’s probably still the most common method.  This has to do with many factors including status quo (effort to change habits), flexible enough to cover every edge use case, possibly slightly easier for the individual at greater expense to the group (a topic for behavioral economics).

Selection of other methods that allow use of desktop app still requires consideration of the situation.  If it’s unlikely that lots of edits to the same doc will happen at the same time, and the overall storage requirements are not large, then automatic sync is easy and convenient.  However, in many organizations, the doc library can get too big to store on everyone’s PC (not to mention security concerns), so auto sync (without elaborate selective sync efforts) may be impractical.

I did not get into security here, as there are lots of variables.  For example, editing a doc from a public kiosk is always risky, and each editing method has its own risks.  Obviously, any time you’re storing a local copy of a file, there’s a possibility that someone else may get to it.  Even the auto upload options inevitably are saving at least a temporary local copy of the file; who knows if proper housecleaning is being done.  And even browser apps cache data locally, so beware of editing docs on insecure PCs.

The good news is there are better doc collaboration options than email.  The bad news is there’s no perfect solution.  It’s easy to stick with the status quo, but if they really thought about the costs to team productivity or of making bad decisions, more teams and companies would proactively move to non-email doc collaboration alternatives as quickly as possible.

23 Mar 2012

Collaboration Knowledge and Big Data

2017-05-16T12:28:05+00:00 March 23rd, 2012|Collaboration, Knowledge Management|Comments Off on Collaboration Knowledge and Big Data

Gutenberg’s printing press initiated mass knowledge capture via books.  The Internet is enabling another monumental knowledge boon, but this is not limited to just web pages.  In fact, rapidly increasing pace, more multi-tasking, greater agility, and even shortening attention spans are moving us away from the era of large, heavy books or documents to an increasing amount of micro-content.  Major decisions and valuable knowledge can be found in micro-content including email, microblogging, and SMS mobile texting.  The question is: how much of it is useful knowledge and how much creates noise that just makes finding the useful stuff more challenging?

The above chart illustrates concepts and is not intended to indicate relative magnitudes in any dimension.  However, it may be interesting to think about which collaborative interactions should be prioritized for knowledge retention (i.e., most valuable knowledge).  Does the interaction medium effect the likelihood of useful information?  or the number of people involved in the interaction?  For example, do more real-time media lend to less pre-thought posts, perhaps resulting in less useful info early in a chat conversation, but more valuable conclusions worth saving at the end?  In contrast, an initial blog post has considerable thought (well, some do at least) up front, followed by less formal comments by readers.  The bottom line is we don’t know, so all if it is kept for future retroactive analysis, which leaves us in the burgeoning age of big data, with snowballing growth of lots of little data (micro-content) instead of traditional heavy data (big books and documents).

19 Jan 2012

The Real Cost of Email

2017-05-16T12:33:27+00:00 January 19th, 2012|Collaboration, Email, Knowledge Management, Social|Comments Off on The Real Cost of Email

The biggest cost of Email is the cost of lost opportunity.  Using email for much of our collaboration, idea sharing and decision making is costing organizations dearly in lost knowledge capture.

Imagine we had to buy everything directly from manufacturers – that we had no stores from which to buy items we wanted, not even online stores.  How would that work?  We would have to figure out if the product we wanted even existed and then who made it.  We’d have to contact manufacturers asking if they made the product we wanted or if they could refer us to the right manufacturer.  We’d then have to keep track of who made what and hopefully, they were still the right manufacturers later on.  Finding the best product or price would be even more daunting.

Crazy, right?  Guess what.  That’s pretty much how knowledge is distributed and managed via email today.  When Joe needs some info, he has to figure out…often guess who has it, or interrupt others to find out who might.  He may remember next time or have to go through the same process again next time.  A great deal (most?) of business discussions, debates, background information and ultimately decisions happen in email today.  And most of it is lost to the organization…

Non Discoverable

When sending an email, the sender must know who needs that information and who needs it right now.  Maybe the sender has no idea that someone else could really benefit from inclusion.  And tomorrow, if someone else could benefit from it, they will never find it.  Unless, of course, they start asking various people, often interrupting people from their own work who cannot help anyway.


To ensure anyone who might benefit from an email, the sender may over distribute it.  In which case, recipients not wanting it may feel “spammed”.  After all, we’re all overflowing in email already, right?  When you do receive clearly useful or targeted info, great.  But what about when it might be useful later?  You keep a copy in case you need it [see “Delete Dilemma”]…as does everyone who received it.  Now you’ve got numerous copies of the same thing floating around.  If one person updates it (this can be a document or just a discussion update), how can you be sure they’ll  a) send the updated version to all people who got the previous version?  and b) those recipients will save that updated copy (and ideally delete the older one).  This gets complex when you think about it!

Lost Context

Another shortcoming that we just seem accept and live with is the “context bottleneck” effect of email.  When I send someone an email, I already have some context about the email – e.g., subject, categories, pertinent accounts, orders or in fact, any associated business process or object.  But the poor recipient has to figure out for herself all of the relevant context.  Granted, her context may be different than mine, but more than likely most of the time, much of the context would be relevant and useful, but it’s lost unless I somehow recreate it.

Solution: Social Collaboration

Social collaboration provides a familiar experience (a la Facebook) that, if done well, integrates well with email and solves many of these knowledge management problems.  Once social collaboration liberates knowledge from email silos the growth of the organization’s collective knowledge will compound rapidly.  Good search and proper contextual social collaboration (like Qontext.com) actually makes finding relevant information easier (see my post on “Context Collaboration”) than in email.  And this collective knowledge benefits individual workers with productivity gains and the organization with greater creativity (see my post on “ROI of Social Collaboration”).

It’s surprising what shortcomings we get used to living with.  That’s why often important changes can only occur with generational change.  I sincerely hope, for all of our sakes, that it won’t take that long for people to wake up to the various shortcomings of email (see my post “Email Sucks”).

9 Jun 2011

Seven Reasons Why Email Sucks

2017-05-16T17:44:41+00:00 June 9th, 2011|Collaboration, Email, Knowledge Management, Social|8 Comments

Ok, maybe that’s a bit harsh…or is it?  We can’t live without email, just like we couldn’t live without telephones even when all we had was rotary dials.  Who wouldn’t say “rotary dial sucks!” today?  We’re dependent on email and drowning in email at the same time.

Look, email, in some form, will not get replaced completely.  Just like TV didn’t completely replace radio.  But following are just some of the reasons why we are way overdue for a change.

1. Knowledge Silos

Email is a poor (and that’s being polite) information sharing repository.  When sending an email, the sender must know who needs the info now.  A colleague who could benefit from the emailed information tomorrow, will never know the info even exists.

Since each email inbox is completely private, stored content can not be shared without explicitly and actively forwarding the content.  This a) requires time to forward those requesting it, and b) creates duplicate copies of the content.

2. Delete Dilemma

deletedilemmaI’ve dedicated another entire blog post to email’s “Delete Dilemma” because I believe it is so important and I don’t recall ever seeing anyone previously identify this issue.  Basically, because an email includes both content and the notification of that content, recipients can not delete the notification if they feel they might need the content again later.  And the expectation of others is that if they emailed you some info, you’re responsible for remembering it.  The result is keeping “everything”, relying on unread marks, manual flagging and labeling.

3. No Priority Hierarchy

The email inbox is more or less a flat list of stuff.  Sure, the sender can set a low/medium/high priority, but who does?  And is the sender’s high priority necessarily yours?  You can also try building some crude rules in Outlook to change colors of emails based on sender.  Gmail even tries to do this for you.  But is every email from your boss or mother really your top priority?

4. Lack of Context

What’s been the latest big innovation in email?  Threading!  Ooooh.  Email threading is nothing more than a rough attempt to automatically group emails by their explicit Subject.  Yes, this is helpful, like…spitting on a fire to put it out.  How often do email threads take tangents that have nothing to do with the original subject?  And how many people just reply to an old email (even keeping the old subject) as an easier way to address a new email? (It’s easier than trying to figure out which is current of the multiple emails addresses suggested by your email program.)

When you think about it, the email sender already has the context of the message.  Instead, we leave it to the recipient to figure out the context and organize (tag, label, file in folder, etc.).  With the increasing volume, organizing received emails usually just does not happen any more.  Instead, we rely solely on sort and search…or probably more prevalent than we’d like to admit, we just ask people again for answers we already have buried in our email inboxes.

5. Distributed Mess

Email’s store-and-forward basis made sense in a world with proprietary dial-up connections and latencies.  Today, this cobbled-together public infrastructure has vulnerabilities.  E.g.,:

  • According to Microsoft, “more than 97% of all e-mails sent over the net are unwanted.
  • An email sender can never be 100% sure when or even if  all intended recipients will receive their email.
  • And even with “standards”, many deal with incompatibilities on a regular basis.  Anyone seen “winmail.dat” attached to an empty message?  Or incompatible formatting?  Or ever try to send meeting invitations including different recipients using MS Outlook, GMail, and Lotus Notes?

6. No Data Life Cycle Management

OldEmail data management has long been a concern for IT and more recently for Compliance.  IT sets crude storage quotas to manage costs (email proliferates unnecessary duplicate copies of files and data).  But data archiving, regulatory compliance, legal holds, etc. are a nightmare.  With email’s store & forward architecture and increasing mobile device adoption and diversity, IT demands security features like remote wipe so an employee can’t just walk away with critical corporate data.

7. Ambiguous Etiquette

Some people ignore emails if they’re only included in the “cc” or “bcc” list.  For example, when introductions are made, often the match-maker is stuck left in the thread, cc’d in all the subsequent emails.  So does cc equate with fyi?  When multiple people are included in SendTo, who’s responsible for responding?  With email lists and listserves, this gets compounded.  Do you reply to the group or just the sender?  Do you then cc the group?  ReplyAll as become ubiquitous with internal spamming.  Inevitably, someone seems compelled to ReplyAll to explain why ReplyAll should not be used.

Let’s face it.  Most of us have a Love/Hate relationship with email.  When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.  We use email for “everything” collaborative.  In email, we share and co-author documents, discuss, announce, invite, schedule, flame, update, etc.  The “Least Common Denominator” functionality of email provides flexibility but also creates inefficiencies for certain tasks where a more appropriate collaboration tool would be better.

But we’ve lived with the pains of email so long we don’t even notice them.  Today, imagine getting rid of your cell phones to carry coins around for pay phones.  Ridiculous now, right?  No one thought so before cell phones.

Shouldn’t we be able to: Subscribe to what we want? Decide how/when we get notified?  Discover useful info we didn’t know existed?  That’s where “Social Collaboration” comes in…for the first time, Social Collaboration offers a supplement, if not a real alternative to email.

18 Apr 2011

Email’s “Delete Dilemma”

2017-05-16T17:48:23+00:00 April 18th, 2011|Collaboration, Email, Knowledge Management, Social|1 Comment

Email Overload

Sure, we can blame email overload on spam, the exploding information age, or our increasing life complexity and responsibilities.  But volume of emails received is only part of the problem, in fact, arguably, not the primary problem.  Even a trickle of running water into a tub that does not drain will overflow.  The unspoken culprit to our email overload, then, is our inability to delete emails.

We keep so many emails because these emails include both content (e.g., message, answers, files) and the notification of this content.  Since we have no other guaranteed way to access an emailed content, we don’t dare delete the email on even the slightest chance that we may need the content again in the future.  This inevitable email hording creates a build up of emails in mail files, whether we organize email into folders or leave them all in our inboxes.  To compound things, our emails include a mix of different content types from various sources (e.g., personal and work) and varying priorities.  This makes finding information complex and inefficient at best.

For example, we may receive multiple versions of the same document over weeks, but how do we remember to delete older versions when we receive an updated one?  This results in multiple versions of the same document, which just adds to the noise when searching for information within my Email.


The good news is that there is a solution, and a seemingly simple one: Separate email content from the notification.  Storing the content in a central repository and sending a notification of the content plus a link to the content allows the recipient to read the notice and delete it without worrying about losing the content.

Content management systems have existed for years.  What’s really enabling this separation of notification from the content for the first time is Social Collaboration.  That’s right, from the roots of Facebook, come real, tangible, game-changing ROI.  By separating this notice from the content, users can literally cut email in half.  This is not just a shift of email from one place to another.  This separation simply allows us to eliminate the temporary notifications while getting the persistent information out of our email inboxes where they do not belong…finally freeing us from the email “Delete Dilemma”.