Groupware Sucks, Long Live Social Software

Groupware such as Lotus Notes, Groupwise, etc. are doomed to fail, simply because they don’t take into account human behaviour and assume that we all behave rationally and in the best interests of the company.

Knowledge workers hoard information. For them to be seen as valuable to the company, they have to market their value to colleagues and especially superiors. So Jane forces Bob to ask her for the knowledge he requires, and then she makes sure that Bob understands how valuable she is to the company through a complex social interaction before letting him have the information. In this way she continually reinforces her value to the company in her colleagues’ minds.

Groupware fails completely in a business environment because Jane has to give up control of her knowledge to the company-wide knowledge base, in effect reducing her value. So she either shuns the system or uses it half-heartedly by not sharing valuable key information that is really needed. For groupware to work in a business we have to understand that the complex social interaction cannot be removed from the system, it needs to be embraced. And the system needs to provide a way for the users to increase their value to the company by allowing them to take ownership of their information and blocking attempts to steal credit from others.

Social software is usually successful, because no one has any reason to hoard information. If they do, they’re not maintaining their value to a company, they’re actually losing their value to society and losing friends. And anything that you say, do, or share using social software is linked to you as a person, rather than to you as an almost anonymous employee. Social software must allow you to build your reputation, maintain trust networks with your friends, and it must be useful or at least fun. Groupware has never been fun to use, and doesn’t allow you to build up your reputation, so no one uses it.

For groupware to succeed, it needs to take into account that people don’t just care about their reputation within the company, they care about their reputation in the world. They can easily build their status in the company by getting up and talking with coworkers, so why bother with clunky groupware? If the groupware allows them to link their personal and business lives, and help them to build their status in both areas, then it will fly!

As Jamie puts it in Groupware Bad, don’t build shit that nobody cares about!

2005.02.17