Sunday, January 16, 2005

The Collaboration Age

Today I read a fascinating New Yorker article about how junior officers in the U.S. Army are using message boards and other online tools to share tips and tactics for serving in Iraq.

The success of and are a microcosm for what I call the collaboration age. Rather than relying on the Army's old system of top-down official information dissemination, today's junior officers (who will be tomorrow's leaders) realize that informal contacts with peers are far more helpful.

Online discussions, peer-to-peer networks, and open source are all proof that we are leaving the age of hierarchy and entering the collaboration age. Yet though the collaboration technologies are new, the new emphasis on collaboration is really a return to the past.

For most of humanity's existence, we have lived in small cooperative groups of less than 100 individuals. Hierarchy arose because the new technologies of agriculture allowed human societies to grow beyond this initial size.

Now, communication technology is allowing us to return to the past. But instead of geographic groups, we live in groups of interest, connected by email, Web sites, instant messaging, and a host of other connections. Rather than deriving all our information from a single group, we collaborate with different groups to help us manage the different facets of our lives.

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