Sunday, March 01, 2009

The Idea Pile

I've been musing lately about using the hive mind of an organization to crowdsource problem-solving. In plain English, encourage sharing ideas at all levels of an organization with a democratic way of gathering, evaluating, and publishing them in a useful way. I mentioned EtherPad as an interesting tool for collaborative editing. Online forums can be made at, or probably dozens of other places. I looked for a diagram creator to make org charts and the like, and found AutoDesk's online tool for doing that. I created the chart below in a few minutes, and published it to the web.

You can also create mind maps online at It's so easy to use it's fun. You can create maps and share them as read-only, like the one below, or allow wiki-style editing to other users.

For synchronous and asynchronous collaboration, there are a couple of nice tools. One is for real-time (synchronous) meetings at Yesterday, my friend Jon told me about another site called Nexo that lets you create a variety of web sites for the asynchronous part. Nexo's power comes from its flexibility. You can create multiple pages devoted to things like calendars, forums, and resources, and then customize those pages with sections like RSS feeds, books on Amazon, forums, tasks, comments, and so forth. It looks promising. Everything I've cited in this post is free for individual accounts.

There are lots of ways to collaborate online. The trick is to figure out how to pull the best of these tools together into one pile. Ideally, any user could highlight and tag one of these objects and have it naturally integrated. This is too much to hope for currently,but I'm hoping to converge to some way to usefully assemble and connect rich content. Everything interesting is due to combinatorics, after all. It's not what it is; stuff is ubiquitous. The uniqueness comes from how these bits are arranged in relation to those bits.

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