Page First, Then E-Mail, Please

I am currently working with a number of local community groups; my role is typically to get people using Web2.0 technologies to make us more efficient.  This is surprisingly difficult.

One group I an involved in recently put on a en event.  The event was proposed a couple months ago through an email message.  There was a certain amount of discussion exchanged by email, until a general consensus was reached to go forward.  Then the event team put together an announcement handout, which was mailed to audience, but the details were not entirely finalized so there were a few more rounds of email with late coming corrections.  All of us got a lot of email, and if you came in late to the discussion, most of the earlier email was unnecessary.  It was hard to say what the conclusion of the exchange was, and it was impossible, looking at one email message, to know whether that was the last email on the topic or not.  On order to be able to review all this later, we all individually had to file emails into folders for later referral.

The solution with a wiki is simple: create a wiki page on the subject, allow people to edit it, and to discuss it on a discussion page.  Anyone visiting the page can see the current “result” of the discussion, and can also see comments that were made along the way.  This is far superior because we all don’t have to duplicate each other’s work in storing and organizing all the email messages.

The difference, I tell people, is that you should compose the document on a wiki page.  then, when you are done, you can email a link to the wiki page to everyone.  Then, if they receive the email late, they click on the link, and automatically get the latest version.  Discussion can center on the wiki page, and it always can contain the resulting version.  We don’t waste everyone’s time filing a lot of email.  My mantra: “Create the page first, then email it.

The advantage of working on a shared page, instead of emailing modified versions around to each other, should be immediately apparent to everyone, but getting people to do this is very very difficult.

WHY? I don’t know, but maybe we can learn something from comparing the two approaches.

Email Approach: I write my draft in complete privacy.  It has no “location” it is just a draft. Only when I am completely done with it, I blast it out to everyone.  At that point in time, it becomes a “reality” that others can see.

Wiki Approach: I create the page first, empty but visible.  It has a location on the web, but no content.  I then start filling the content in.  When it gets to a point of completion, I send an email pointing at the page location.  The advantage: I can fix the page at any time — possibly before some people even see it.

My experience has been that people find the concept of creating a place on the web when it is empty either very confusing or uncomfortable.  The concept of creating a “space for a page” is unnatural.  When asked to “make a web page” the built-in assumption is that it will be created someplace else, and then put on the web when done.  If you are going to wait until it is done, you might as well email it out.  I don’t know, but maybe that is it.

Maybe this is easier for digital natives, but my experience is that this is a huge barrier for digital imigrants to use (some) Web 2.0 technologies.

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5 Responses to Page First, Then E-Mail, Please

  1. jcg says:

    you seem to contradict yourself: “you should compose the document on a wiki page. then, when you are done, you can email a link to the wiki page to everyone” vs “the built-in assumption is that it will be created someplace else, and then put on the web when done. If you are going to wait until it is done, you might as well email it out”.

    why can’t people start with the email approach and develop content up to a certain point where they are ready for others to see it (the point where you would email the link to the wiki out) – and then publish it to the wiki where all can collaborate on the future of the document ?

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