For all of the talk about “web 2.0”, “enterprise 2.0,” the new “collaborative, distributed workforce,” and don’t get me started on “cloud 2.0,” collaborating online is basically full of excessive, unending, ragequit pain. This is a blog about what collaboration software needs to learn from MMORPGs.
Surprisingly, the best collaboration platform I use is…. World of Warcraft. World of Warcraft is a Massive Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game. You pick a character and fight demons. With other people. Here are some things World of Warcraft nails that I wish collaboration software would take to heart:
1. Actual Collaboration Requires a Shared Experience
When playing WoW together, you are looking at the same landscape. When something new happens in the game space or one of the characters does something to modify it (like starts attacking a demon), the rest of the players can see that action, as it happens. If Warcraft can do it, why can’t my document collaboration software also update the document as others make changes to it?!!? If I’m trying to book a flight or explore flight options, why do I have to email someone through a booking platform so they can see the options I’m looking at?
I’m not talking about screen-sharing, either. I’m talking about maintaining independently accessed “instances” of a shared problem space that is subject to the modifications of all parties, in real time. Most collaboration software or collaboration features end up resorting to some version of screen sharing. Screen sharing is not a collaboration tool. Screen sharing violates user autonomy, creates a hierarchy of control rather than a flat collaboration space (only one person can make changes), and is basically a ghetto hack to overcome a real problem.
Without ripping into specific platforms (nudge Google Docs), this does reveal an underlying theme that collaboration software just doesn’t get - users need to be able to share an experience, object, document, problem space, media, etc - and share control over it.
2. User Autonomy is Possible. Complexity is Manageable.
While in World of Warcraft you are operating on a shared environment, you are able to configure your version of the problem space with your own setup. You can set hot keys for different weapons and spells, add plug-ins that 3rd parties have built with the API (oh hey, we love that!), try out different screen perspectives…. the list goes on. Not all users are forced into the same config just because they share a problem space.
Collaboration software addresses the complexity issue by… well, completely removing complexity so everyone has to deal with the same n00b settings! The way Warcraft does this is much better. There is a separation between how the user experiences the problem space and the problem space itself- a separation that doesn’t impact the group experience.
3. Communication Features != Collaboration App
World of Warcraft has a ton of awesome ways to communicate. Wanna chat with just one of your friends? Done. Talk to the local castle defense channel? Done. Talk in a dungeon raiding group? Yep. Voice? Yes. (OK, WoW voice sucks, we still have to use Skype for that, but you get the point.) World of Warcraft understands that people want to communicate in different ways around the problem space. It doesn’t need you to run other bulky apps alongside it just to have a conversation about what’s going on inside of the game app.
Collaboration software has set itself to the lowest bar possible: letting you communicate. “Twitter for The Enterprise” is not a collaboration tool. It’s a messaging feature. Collaboration is about objects and problems spaces (a document, a business plan, a piece of content, etc.), not the ability to instant message someone or make a phone call. We’ve had that stuff for awhile. Nothing new.
So why are we focusing on communication features instead of actually making it possible to experience the internets and its objects in a shared and collaborative way?
The Final Countdown
The internet has largely been designed as an individual experience. You access content in your own way, on your own time, from the privacy of your machine. Hey, if you wanted to like, work with people, you’d leave the house, right?
Well as we all know things have changed. We’ve broken down the individual- oriented nature of the web in only the most superficial of ways - basically, allowing you to share what you are seeing with others. A link-based World Wide Web, emerging and established social networks, and screen sharing technology are all geared at getting people to look at the same things, not create things together.
People talk a lot about “where the internet is going.” My hope for the future
is about making the internet a place not just for individual experiences,
but for shared experiences. A web that recognizes that individual users are
not the only units to calibrate for. A web that’s only designed for users to
is really prejudicial against people in long distance
relationships ignores the larger potential of an internet that lets
users experience and create things together.