Question 113 of 365: Why do we need collaborative email signatures?

Gmail's Black Dot, Do you see it too?
Image by Gubatron via Flickr

I feel more complete when other people come into my space than when I go into theirs. I feel as though they are reaching out to me, especially if I haven’t given an invitation that must be accepted or rejected. Mass participation in something I helped to create is like no other sensation I know. It is as if I am being chosen from all of the activities that exist and when I see other people take part and engage in the act of co-authoring something, I feel energized and warm. It is those moments of potential when I notice I am not the only one with a particularly interesting idea that seem to lead to everything else. It is as if my mind bounces sets up everyone that is engaged within my head as a pinball machine and bounces the ideas back and forth. And then when the words start to come, the transformation from idea to reality is so complete and beautiful that I pursue it like my son pursues a new tiny raisin box. I can’t be the only one who sees collaboration like this.

So, I had an idea.

What if I demonstrated my value for collaboration within every communication that I sent out? What if I showed people that I believe in crowdsourcing and co-creation within every one of my utterances? What if I left an olive branch out there for others to grab ahold of no matter whether my tone was repentant, forceful or self-abasing in my voice?

As I thought about all of the ways in which I decry a lack of communication and collaboration, I had never really given others an option of exercising their collaborative muscles without first giving them concrete parameters for doing so. Collaboration always had to be for a specific purpose, rather than just for the joy of being a part of creating something together. I knew that I had to show co-creation in the contexts that others envision, rather than just opening up the possibility of letting collaboration happen.

In the hopes of spontaneous collaboration, I have set up an open Google Doc that is now a permanent part of my e-mail signature. With every reply, I will be telling people that I would rather be contacted through collaboration than through a phone number. I am telling people the ways in which I connect must be within a co-created space rather than on “my turf” or theirs. While this may be nothing more than an experiment, I am now inviting everyone to come together rather than simply take a look at my identity. And, I encourage others to do the same.

What if we all used collaborative signatures? What if we found ways to promote the values that we say that we have signed on for? What if we didn’t point people to our websites and our blogs, but rather we pointed them to take part in branding our conversations with everything that they bring to the table? What if we learned from one another without the boundaries of a single e-mail thread? What if we created the spaces for solving common problems and what if we actually solved them?

I get why specific spaces work so well. I get why Facebook and LinkedIn are so wildly popular. You know what you are supposed to do there. You are supposed to share information about yourself and establish a presence that others can come and interact with. What I am proposing is a departure from this because I am advocating for a space with undefined identity. In fact, the way I created the link to share the Google Doc, pretty much assumes everyone is anonymous unless they login from the Doc itself. I am also proposing a space that can change ownership and focus depending on who is there and how it is being used. Because people can exist in real-time within the document’s chat area, conversations can happen and then disappear. Because people can leave semi-permanent notes and ideas for one another, it is like having one massive whiteboard that other people can add to at will.

Given that so many of us are working from anywhere there is an internet connection, we need an office whiteboard that can be doodled on and graffitied. We all need a space that doesn’t have the parameters of meeting notes and agenda items or informal sharing that drifts by in a stream of tweets. We need almost permanence. We need open-endedness. We need collaborators.

And we should show this need every chance we get.

So, here is what I am starting with. Create your own space:

This is my public collaborative document for anyone who I correspond with to take part in. It is an experiment in whether or not giving people the option of collaborating and creating together will cause them to do so, despite the very different types of people that I talk to on a regular basis.

What kinds of things can you do here?

  • Leave me notes. Leave other people notes. Drop in interesting pictures.
  • Ask a question or answer one.
  • Throw out an idea or build something new.

Obviously, this isn’t the place where you will write the great American novel, but you can take whatever is in this document and use it however you like. I am licensing everything here as Creative Commons Attribution-Only. Go bananas.

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0 Comments

  1. I like your “this is our office whiteboard” analogy. It's more “wall” even than Facebook's concept of a wall.

    Twice in the last two days, in replies to colleagues on Twitter, I felt I was about to move from communicating with another person to collaborating with them. Unfortunately, my shared “spaces” with those people are Twitter and blogs, neither of which are well-suited for collaboration. It's not like we lack better tools, but those exist in “spaces” that I don't currently share with those people, and that creates a somewhat superficial but still real barrier. Using Skype would be good, Google Wave might work, even Buzz is much better at conversations than Twitter, but the super-low barrier to entry like a blank page in Google Docs would be a comfortable place to collaborate. Thanks to your post, I might have to recontact those people and open a doc with them tomorrow.

  2. Yeah. I thought about the Facebook wall a bunch, but I think the original
    intent has been somewhat lost in their quest for 500 million users. I truly
    believe that Google's inclusion of the “share” via a link is the killer app
    for collaboration. Everything else kind of pales in comparison. Everything
    that requires us to log in gets in the way of the intuitive process of
    creating something new. We shouldn't have to stop what we are thinking just
    so we can start doing the business of logging in or creating an account. I
    hope you do reconnect with those folks. Share out what you create, would
    you?

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