Looking for an office collaboration tool that will replace silly mailing lists.
April 22, 2010 5:01 PM   Subscribe

Looking for an office collaboration tool that will replace silly mailing lists.

Hello -- I've done some searches of MeFi but haven't found an answer that addresses my need specifically. I work for a mid-size (1700 people) global company that is first-in-class in what we do for a living but worst-in-class when it comes to how we collaborate internally. (OK, I'm probably being a bit melodramatic but not by too much).

I know that collaboration itself is a pretty major topic, but I'm really only interested in solving one problem, moving our internal communications out of Outlook and into something more robust, persistent, moderate-able, search-able, etc.

Right now when one of our sales engineers or professional services people have a technical or process question for an engineering team, they fire off an email to one of the zillion email lists we have internally. Generally there's someone that's ostensibly responsible for making sure it gets answered, but there's no real moderator. Since it's an email list it's not really searchable (unless you save every email to these lists) questions get asked and re-asked over and over. There have been attempts at creating a searchable database of these but they've never really taken off.

So my initial idea is a basic message board (i.e., phpBB or vBulletin). Simple to implement, moderate-able, searchable, etc. So ubiquitous on the web yet such a mystery that we don't already have something like this.

Anyway, before I start proposing software solutions I thought I'd ask the hive mind for suggestions and alternatives. Again, I'm not really looking for a full blown collaboration tool since I'll probably have enough work just getting people to buy into this. I probably won't have a huge budget so something like Jive is probably out of the question.

Looking forward to your responses.
posted by mcschmidt00 to Technology (7 answers total)
We use Yammer for something similar with our large, widely-distributed team.
posted by ThatSomething at 5:19 PM on April 22, 2010

Hm. Google Wave would probably be too much for this, but if the users got the knack, it'd probably work pretty handsomely.
posted by LucretiusJones at 5:32 PM on April 22, 2010

I agree that Google Wave would work wonderfully for this, in fact I believe this exact situation is why Google came up with it.

Unfortunately, it has a bit of a steep learning curve for getting a whole office to understand it, and they'd all have to get into the beta first. This isn't too hard, but it's too much of a pain to get invites for the whole office, I'd bet.
posted by InsanePenguin at 5:53 PM on April 22, 2010

One partial solution with minimal learning curve is to simply set up a mailing list with archives and a great search function, then ... uh... encourage .... people to search it before posting to the list. Lots of open-source coding projects do this.

However, this doesn't take care of your moderation problem.

a wiki - probably more effort than you want to put in, and requires pretty dedicated maintenance to stay usable.

a forum - more structured than the wiki. you're already familiar with this via askMeFi - for a more how-to centric one, look at stackoverflow.com.

google groups - possibly simpler than google wave for people to learn, and would allow you (anybody) to see if certain queries hadn't yet been answered. Also searchable.
posted by Metasyntactic at 7:44 PM on April 22, 2010

I agree with Metasyntactic: technology isn't going to take care of your primary problem, which is engineering support roles and responsibilities. If everyone is (ostensibly) responsible, no one will be responsible. I also agree that a wiki is going to need an owner that updates it (basically a FT job, which will be a very hard sell), but a forum could be self-sustaining IF it is mandated that answering questions are part of the engineering staff's job.
posted by sfkiddo at 8:46 PM on April 22, 2010

Is timing a factor? I worked somewhere that had exactly the same problem and it was extremely tedious for everyone. Several failed projects later, it is still mostly unsolved. However one complicating factor is that about half these communications were things that required an almost-immediate response. So, one thing that helped a little was for people in small specific clusters to use instant messaging groups, using a client where the 'group' and the chat itself could persist. It may not help with being searchable, however.

By the way, is this something you have been specifically charged with solving? If not, be very careful. I know it's tempting to try and fix things, but in such a big organisation, even the best solution in the world will involve some pain and evoke discontent and may leave you feeling upset at the resistance and ingratitude. If it's someone else's responsibility, making suggestions to them is fine, but do *not* get too involved.
posted by 8k at 2:10 AM on April 24, 2010

I know everyone loooooooooooves them some Google, but check with your legal folks before farming stuff out to "we search everything" Google. You might have stuff getting outside that you really don't *want* to get out.

what's running the mailing lists? You should be able to search through the archives already if they're Mailman lists.
posted by drstein at 1:09 PM on April 26, 2010

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