Socialtext is based on wiki which, which uses a model of collaboration coming from the world of agile software development.
Within a team, there is a level of trust. People want to be able to work together quickly, with few barriers. If someone makes a mistake, others will rally and correct it. The capabilities of the team as a whole is greater than the sum of the parts, so it’s great to be able to get contribution from everyone. People are working quickly, in short iterations. It’s important to be able to contribute quickly, with as few steps and interruptions as possible.
The original wiki model was fully open to the public. Socialtext supports public wikis, which are fully open, and private wikis, which are open to members of the team.
Larger organizations require a more sophisticated model than “public” or “private.” There are models to draw on from Christopher Alexander, an architect whose work on “pattern languages” describes the design patterns in the physical built environment, ranging in scale from rooms, to houses, to streets, to neighborhoods and cities.
Alexander writes about an “intimacy gradient”. There are some areas in a house that are public — the front porch; areas that are indoors and public — the living room; and areas that are indoors and more private — bedrooms and bathrooms.
The design opportunity is to create livable, workable, more-public and more-private spaces, using a “social software method” that focuses on helping people connect and collaborate with people in the least restrictive, most appropriately trusting way.
This is a different design philosophy than the traditional methods for setting levels of privacy. The underlying traditional assumption is that information should be available, and users should have privileges, on a “need to know basis.” Individuals should have as little information and as few privileges as they need to do their jobs.
The goal of a tool for group work is to be able to restrict access with as much control as possible. Content and privileges should be controllable at a highly granular level. A work process should be clearly defined, to determine what users should have access to what information, and a given stage of a process.
This methods depend on a highly-structured, formal process. Analysts and administrators need to carefully define the types of information, to parcel out privileges, and to be able to monitor information access.
These processes and assumptions are right for some environments, and wrong for many others. If an organization needs a highly structured, controlled, restricted process, then Socialtext is probably not right for that need.
Many knowledge workers overuse email, because that’s the only way they can get the kind of rapid, flexible communication that’s appropriate for the collaborative work they’re doing.
Socialtext is seeking looking to add more layers to the “intimacy gradient”, without recreating the highly structured collaboration tools that exist today.