Online collaboration in the 21st century

With Wikipedia turning 15 this year, we discuss online collaboration some popular examples, and some of its pros and cons.

To varying degrees, we take the options available for online collaboration for granted. Today, a broad range of platforms and services are available – some of which might be considered generic in nature; whilst others geared towards specific tasks. However, ultimately, they aim to facilitate coordination among collaborators and improving productivity.

As expected, online collaboration platforms have evolved over the years. However, one that has survived, and has become an indispensible information/encyclopaedic resource among the global English-speaking population in particular, is Wikipedia.

Wikipedia, the ultimate wiki

Launched on 10 January in 2001, Wikipedia has just turned 15 years old. As at the time of publishing, it has over than 5 million content articles in English, and almost 6 million views per hour (around 144 million views per day).

For many of us, Wikipedia has become a primary source for information, but we give little thought to the effort required – behind the scenes, so to speak – to provide the information we now take for granted. The foundation upon which Wikipedia was developed and still exists, is the collaborative writing of the articles that is done, almost exclusively, by anonymous volunteers.

As the name suggests, Wikipedia uses the wiki system, which is a type of website that allows collaborative modification of its content and structure directly from the web browser. Wikis are still being used today, most popularly in the Microsoft product, SharePoint.

Another online collaborative tool

For those of us who do might not have the need or the funds for something as comprehensive as SharePoint, Google Drive can be a viable and powerful option. Beyond its file storage capabilities, the word processing, spreadsheet, and slide presentation applications in Drive allow users have invited collaborators who can edit documents in real time, as the video clips below begin to illustrate.

Working in a team: some pro and cons

Though increasingly, collaboration is being encouraged – from the classroom to the workplace – it can be challenging to manage. For example, it can lead to longer decision times and more protracted processes to achieve consensus on issues. Also, conflicts in the group, be they personality-related or difference in approach to the matters at hand, can adversely affect the overall success of the group, Furthermore, if roles and responsibilities among the constituent members, or if the objectives of the collaboration, are not entirely clear, again the processes and outcomes can be chaotic.

On the other hand, working in a team can foster greater ownership and improved creativity among collaborators. The group can also benefit from having to consider different perspectives, and having ideas subject to multiple views and more rigorous scrutiny. It however means that to an appreciable extent, potential challenges have to be managed in order for the output of the team to be greater than the sum of its parts.


Image credit:  드림포유 (flickr)



  • I use it all of the time. I find that larger corporations tend to trust Google Drive more than DropBox (and do not know about Box unless IT dept told them) because of the brand name difference.

    Outside of collaboration features, larger corporations use it as a means to bypass ridiculous file size restrictions in their corporate email inboxes. I was surprised when a supervisor at LIME first shared a Google Drive folder with me and placed sensitive info in it so that’ s one issue right there.

    Regarding productivity due to online collaboration tools, it works out fine once there is a document owner – easy to do if the owner maintains edit rights and only gives others view & comment rights (even in Google Drive)

  • Thank you, I didn’t know underlying base of “wiki” is in fact a system. Only other such subsystem that quickly comes to mind is Wikileaks.

    I terms of collaboration systems or set ups, I find the new Skype for Business set up that Microsoft have got integrated with all their suites to be very good. But that could well be because I came late to the party and have only been oriented to the one.

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