This is a part of a mail to my friend. The organisation is 1. made up of technical people and 2. they were considering SharePoint and the mail is a way for me to try and explain my first reaction of Noooooooo… Please feel free to correct/comment/criticise/add things…
Is it mostly a project management/motivational tool? Do you mostly need to manage teams of people working on the same thing, needing access to the same secure files, to online realtime meeting (chat) rooms, whiteboards, discussion boards? Of is it a tool to strengthen and maximise connections formed at collaborative events and conferences? There is a local company called Huddle.net who does these things, and they are developing really quickly. I’ve used them for collaborative conference planning, I like their platform, and they are quick to implement changes if you suggest them.
There are some others that do other things well. BasecampHQ.com is part of a package for small businesses to take care of their project management, Customer Relationship Management, etc – but doesn’t scale as well. Alfresco.com takes the social integration a lot further, it works better if your users are mostly on twitter already. Which might well be the case, I don’t know.
A quick case study for how online community building/collaboration can work these days.
Akvo (http://akvo.org) is a start-up showing how IT changes lives, literally. It’s both a database of water/sanitation related projects around the world, with real-time updates coming via SMS straight from the field (an idea which Akvo is built around), widgets showing off these projects on partners’ websites, and a Wiki (Akvopedia), a water and sanitation related resource of knowledge. The idea being that a lot of knowledge is being collected by NGOs around the world but now we have the technology to free it from the dusty shelves and make it available to the people who need it.
Akvo is an organisation whose employees live and work all over the world. Headquarters based in the Netherlands, founders live and work in the Netherlands, Stockholm and London, developers in California and Scotland, a community of partners all over the world. Much of their communications (whatever is not priviledged) are happening in real time and completely discoverable on Twitter. They all blog and create content of their work, they use video, audio, pictures to document what they do, they have their CRM system securely in the cloud so they can access contact data from wherever they are, they use ichat and skype to talk to each other every day. As a result, they are able to have a thriving community and have built links with just about everyone else working in that field, plus managed to become the technical partner for Live Earth, which is quite a feat for such a young organisation.
Obviously some of this is going to be more or less applicable depending on the particular organisation and its activities. However, a fact is that many of the tools are free. Wikis (you already have one), twitter, skype, google wave, linkedin and its groups. Platforms to pull these things, and people, together.
To be creatively collaborative – start where you are. People meet at events. In my network, I have a brilliant personal community on twitter of people who work in similar areas, because I volunteered to run events, and I keep in constant touch with them on twitter. It’s worth a lot more than the money I could have been paid to run those events (it’s almost every day that I throw a question out and get an instant reply from my network, saving me lots of research time). In your network, there are events, people meet, I personally would start with a way of helping people to keep in touch after meeting at those events. Create a platform and then run workshops at the events about getting involved. It’s not a case of if you build it they’ll come – the important thing is the person to pull the tech together and gets people involved