Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

By Dennis D. McDonald

I usually don’t pay much attention to “death of” web posts — unless I’m writing them, of course — but Kevin Cavanaugh’s Death of the Document is worth a read.

Cavanaugh says the following after a brief review of cloud based alternatives to standard office application suites:

These other options have arrived due in part to the evolution of how people view “a document” and how people expect to collaborate and work together. Businesses are demanding these changes: it has become the norm to work in real time and be aware of updates as they occur. Vendors will have to meet these demands, and offer solutions to businesses that offer collaborative editing, assignment of tasks and management of comments.

While  I agree somewhat with Cavanaugh’s perspective on the changing role of the document, I think he misses an important point: that is, email continues to be a major platform for communication and collaboration in large organizations,  despite wholesale adoption of collaboration platforms such as SharePoint and Jive. Emails, after all, can be thought of as “little documents.” They’re created, they support (albeit inefficiently) sharing and collaboration among groups of people, and they get stored, saved, searched, forwarded, and deleted, just like “real documents.”

I know some folks, for example, who couldn’t do their work without the ability to use Gmail’s powerful built-in search features, features that put to shame the full text search and retrieval software one of my old employers used for managing huge document collections on optical discs. If you ask Gmail users how they like Gmail’s document search and retrieval system they’ll look at you, puzzled,  till you tell them you’re talking about Gmail. “Oh, you mean email search,” they’ll say.

I am well aware of the difference between “real” documents and email, and about the different uses, limitations, records management, and compliance issues that surround them. That’s not the point. The point is that documents aren’t dead, they’re evolving. Just as more and more communication is moving to real-time collaboration via “social” platforms, it’s also be true that a lot of the content previously instantiated in “documents” is now moving to — and being quite happily managed — using email. Acknowledging that will be necessary if we want to really help enterprise employees to communicate and collaborate more effectively. 

Copyright (c) 2011 by Dennis D. McDonald

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