Jessica Lipnack 1997-2007: A Decade of Find, Use, Manage, Share
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By Jessica Lipnack

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On the evolutionary scale, 10 years isn't even a blip, not a blink, not a breath in. It's hardly anything at all. But on the information scale, especially in the years from 1997 to 2007, a decade is a new mountain range, a new species, a new world.

FreePint has been covering this evolution revolution from tip to tail, keeping up with changes in the business information industry as they've happened. Now, as we celebrate our 10th birthday, we've invited four top experts in their fields of finding, using, managing and sharing information to explain what these changes mean from a distance.

By the time you read this, the landscape is likely to have evolved again - who knows what earthshaking ideas are rippling forth? Until then, here are the hottest trends in the last 10 years. We'll keep an eye on the seismograph while you read.

Share By Jessica Lipnack

Jessica LipnackThough born half a century ago for the very purpose of sharing, the Internet's contribution to collaboration only began to flower in the virtual recent past.

In 1997, going online still was new in many places, including most developed countries. Dial-up meant that people ran mental meters while online (the faster you got off, the less it cost); being on the Web at work was highly suspicious; and it was still reasonable to ask, 'Are you on e-mail?'

'You had to go to IT to negotiate projects for massive systems if you wanted to collaborate', says Michael Sampson, principal at Collaboration Success Advisors. 'Now it's a credit card and $49.99/month for Confluence. Collaboration was an add-on-you did stuff then thought about how to share. Now it's core to products.'

Collaborative Strategies' David Coleman marks 1997 as the formative year for 'real-time collaboration'. With the advent of Web-conferencing companies like Centra and WebEx, screen-sharing across distance turned simple. Everyone could look at the same information simultaneously without having to be in the same location. We take it for granted now but remote screen sharing was a breakthrough for conference calls.

Just as the dot-com bubble inflated, online team rooms sprouted across corporate networks. Products like Lotus Notes and eRoomwere standard bearers for a new way of working asynchronously. Though their forebears (EIES, c. 1975 and MetaNet, c. 1982) had been providing online collaboration environments for decades, the late-1990s team room made work-at-a-distance significantly easier. (Disclosure: My company, NetAge, designed Livelink virtualteams for Open Text).

Fast-forward to the year 2000 bubble-burst and the birth of the supernova: Wikipedia. Many global experiments in massive numbers of people working together preceded the Wikipedians but none matched their collaborative heft. The electronic encyclopedia of eight million pages in 250 languages arising from voluntary collaboration was a landmark in human cooperation.

Peer-to-peer computing, the ultimate in you-me and me-you collaboration (or stealing, depending on your perspective) made headlines then too. And, lest we forget, instant messaging, another early Internet feature, and text messaging also burst onto the scene at the dawn of the 21st century, radically transforming quick information exchange.

Advance the clock to now, when we're in the middle of the Web 2.0 era. Over the past few years, a lifetime in collaboration, the underlying technology that allows us to share everything in multiple media with a few clicks is so good that it's 'our bad' if we can't work together online.

'I could go on poetically for hours about the 'prince of social software - the wiki,' says Loretta Donovan, Adjunct Assistant Professor at Columbia University. 'Its ability to allow co-creation both synchronously and asynchronously ... [and] retain archives is the essence of collaboration.'

Wikis, blogs, and social networking have radically altered collaboration. The just-for-kids nature of online social networks is growing up even as I type.

What's next? Haven't even mentioned Second Life and the other virtual environments yet, again with deep roots, but now they're going mainstream. Increased bandwidth, better compression algorithms, and faster transmission speeds will bring these 3-D collaborative technologies inside companies, Coleman says. And, before long, holography will be a commodity, real-time language translators will be commonplace-and our skill in dissolving distance itself will morph into something we can barely imagine.

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