Tech Expectations

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Collaboration: WTF is it, really? An attempt to map the Collaboration Market

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OK, I’m expressing a little frustration. Every time I see the term “collaboration,” I shudder. Why? The term is actually worse than “cloud” or “big data” or other terms that end up obscuring the products and vendors in a market. Ask five people what they mean when they say “collaboration,” and you will end up with five completely different definitions. Am I taking this personally? Well, yes. I am trying to collaborate every day. I am creating content that needs to get out to peers and the public. I am trying to get the word out to colleagues in UK, France, Germany, Belgium, Singapore, Tokyo, down the hall, next door, at the desk next to me – and failing. Or at the very least, spending about five times as much time as I think I should be.

I’m going to tackle this problem in a few ways. First, I’m going to map the market the way I see it. I’m a big fan of analysts, but I think they have it all wrong. They are following the traditional product categories of “unified communications,” or “business social networks,” when the categories have lost their meaning. The lines have been blurring for years. With the existence of Twilio, which sells embeddable services for VoIP, any SaaS or Mobile application can easily add voice conferencing and IM. With the existence of WebRTC, any SaaS or Mobile application can add video conferencing. The existing product categories are useless.

What is still relevant is the workflow. What is the core of the product? Is it meant for creating content from scratch? Is it meant for review and commenting? Is it meant for syndication? Is it meant as group communication tool? Is it meant to manage projects? Somewhere in the core mission of the product, the amount of people the tool is meant to deal with, and whether the communication is primarily synchronous or asynchronous, lies the true definition of collaboration.

The second and third ways I’m going to deal with my frustration are to try to 2) wrestle my workplace into shape and 3) participate in building the products I need. My current workplace is a classic example of what many workplaces are currently wrestling with (and no Slack isn’t the answer to all our problems, though it is certainly a highly evolved tool): We are highly distributed, we’re growing like a weed, everyone has their own preferences about what works and what doesn’t and we have people that grew up with email (read: multi-generational collaborators).

This post is about the first category – making sense of the market. I expect lots of commentary and disagreement. Have at it!



Author: Leo Leung

I’ve been a designer, marketer, product manager, and mental health counselor (and often a blend of all of four) at Scality, Oxygen Cloud, EMC, and United Way. I'm currently a Product Manager for the Oracle Cloud Platform. I’m fascinated by great products, great experiences, innovative businesses, and the stories behind them. I’ll write about them at

One thought on “Collaboration: WTF is it, really? An attempt to map the Collaboration Market

  1. Interesting matrix! Our team recently spent several weeks reviewing options for collaborative task management apps. We must have burned through 15 or so. I did notice a trend in many of the products – they were trying to do it all. Tasks, networking, file sync, note taking, chat, etc… Personally, I’m not a fan of that approach. The best products did one thing and did it well. If they also offered ancillary functions, we honestly weren’t interested as we already had a solution that did it better. In the end, there were three key features we were looking for:

    1.) Built for multi-user. This means separate logons, tracking of individual users, security, ACLs, etc.
    2.) Multi-platform. Our team is a mixture of Windows/Mac users, and I also use Linux at home.
    3.) Offline access. Too many apps try to accomplish the “multi-platform” requirement by having a web app. This doesn’t cut it for those of us that spend a lot of hours on airplanes and in areas of the world with spotty or non-existent Wifi hotspots.

    Something I have noticed lately that I am warming up to is the proliferation of Chrome apps. This tackles #2 above and, when built properly, can also accomplish #3. A lot of the Chrome apps even have integration into other Chrome apps, potentially addressing some of the sprawl that you mention in your post.

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