Jason Fitzpatrick at Lifehacker has posted the results to a request from his visitors to identify the five best collaboration tools. Jason Fitzpatrick at Lifehacker has posted the results to a request from his visitors to identify the five best collaboration tools. The winners were Basecamp (coincidentally, used by Unified Communications Edge, IT Business Edge and our growing stable of network sites), Google Wave, Microsoft Office Sharepoint, Google Docs and plain old e-mail.
It is possible to almost see the evolution of the category in real time. Smart designers and engineers are doing what technologists always try to do: Simultaneously simplify the user interface while making the underlying functionality deeper and richer.
The most useful and accessible tools remain e-mail and telephone, however. The other platforms chosen by Lifehacker's visitors certainly provide invaluable functions. They do a much better job than base e-mail in almost every area. The platforms efficiently distribute complex documents, facilitate high-end communications and create user-friendly and searchable archives of collaborative sessions.
E-mail – and the good old telephone, for that matter – were first on the scene, however, and long ago won the hearts and minds of users. It's up to the new products to integrate with those tools, not vice versa.
Reading the Lifehacker list led me to what I feel is a key question: What, exactly, is the difference between a collaboration and unified communications? Are they synonymous? Are they separate tools but so closely linked that any difference matters only to those in the business and the journalists who cover them?
For my money, there is one key differentiator. Collaboration tools that lack presence and escalation functions are fundamentally different than unified communications platforms in which it is possible to find group members who are not at their desks and to change the applications that are being used as the need of session participants change. It is likely that the presence and escalation function require deeper integration with the company's core infrastructure than the data-centric Web-based collaboration tools demand.