Here's a theme that's been causing a lot of debate amongst my peers of late -- is a social intranet the same thing as a social workplace and the same as social collaboration? Can one product or set of features meet the needs of all of these requirements?

The issue here requires an understanding of the differences between communities and teams, affinities and goals.

Defining the Terms

One of the key challenges in this rapidly emerging space is that the vocabulary we have for discussing it is rather poor.

So, the first thing I want to do is define and clarify a few terms. I invite you to debate, discuss and add dimension to these terms. This is what I've laid out as a framework so far.

  • Community: a group of people, usually a larger one, 25+ members with some affinity for each other.
  • Organization: a company, government agency, enterprise or other formally recognized institution that has a defined purpose for its existence.
  • Team: a group of people with a specific objective or purpose for their association.

Many Flavors of Collaboration

Collaboration is not a single concept, but a collection of at least three, which can be subdivided even further once we get into the details. (Hey, if the Inuit can have 37 words for snow...)

I will summarize my ideas on these three types of collaboration (you can also check out the in-depth post I wrote a while back).

  1. Creative collaboration is a purpose-driven effort toward a specific outcome. There is a specific group of people with a shared objective - in other words, a team. Process, Communication, Organization and Decision making are the critical activities here.
  2. Connective collaboration is the fine are of connecting the dots, where we (through a weaker set of ties) are able to discover related ideas, key information, spot trends and generally ensure that information and insight is discovered and connected in the right context, at the right time, by the right people. People also use terms like "expertise identification" and "serendipity" to describe this type of collaboration. I think that these are just examples of this type of collaboration, and I don't think that serendipity is a good business plan (we have ways of making serendipity happen - just wait).
  3. Compounding collaboration is where present meets and leverages past. Where the work of the past is added to, layered upon and compounded so that each of us may stand on the shoulders of those who've come before to accomplish more that we ever could if each had to start from scratch. Some people call this knowledge management. I think it goes well beyond that.

Editor's Note: Also read Hutch Carpenter's Three Types of Collaboration that Drive Innovation.

Connectiveness of Social Intranets

An intranet is (or should be) the digital embodiment of an organization’s purpose and resources. It should inform, empower and enable employees to understand the organization, its mission, and the resources and processes available to help them get their work done.