I’ve been mulling over the merits of different collaboration tools. What struck me is the importance of being able to refer to past conversations. In the world of the Internet that means URLs.
Having a history, or log, of discussions is critical. Some technologies don’t necessarily provide a built-in way to log conversations, but are easily augmented to do so. One example of this is IRC. A good bot can be added to log the conversation in a channel, and that in turn can be used to produce a web accessible archive.
WordPress.org does this at https://irclogs.wordpress.org/. But it’s more than just dumping the channel logs as HTML on a web page, each conversation can be linked to directly. For example, here is the link to the start of last week’s dev meetup in #wordpress-dev : https://irclogs.wordpress.org/chanlog.php?channel=wordpress-dev&day=2010-01-14#m55606. From a collaboration point of view being able to link back like this is critical. If we’re chatting about a topic that was covered during that conversation we don’t have to depend on our memory, notes or gut instinct; we can link directly to an authoritative source.
Email lists fall into this category as well, despite being inherently different in a critical way. Where IRC is real-time group chat, email is asynchronous; it might be days before you get response back. An archive of an email list can give the same sort of specific links that an IRC archive can.
Other communication tools, like blogs and forums, by their very nature provide links. For instance, here is the proposed WordPress 3.0 dev schedule from the WordPress Development Updates blog. Same goes for forums of course.
It’s worth making a mention of the P2 WordPress theme. It’s kind of a Twitter + forum blend. On WordPress.com you can use it along with the IM support for posts and comments, that adds a realtime element to a blog. At Automattic we have numerous internal private blogs that are powered by P2, I use the IM feature to get instant notification when a new post or comment is added. Matt has a great post on the impact P2 has had at Automattic.
What ever tools you use to collaborate with others, make sure there is a way to log the conversations, keeping a history is vital. And beyond that, if you can’t share links to that history, then it may as well not exist.