What Collaboration Really Means

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I was both excited and a little anxious about the recent Quadrant recognition for “collaborative work management”.


I have no insider standing with Airtable, but I do know that it’s not uncommon for technology companies to pay large fees to be “recognized”. Whenever I see these bold prognostications, I get a little fidgety because they often come with lofty assertions of perfection like this.

"This report acknowledges the challenges that arise from too many ‘collaboration tools,’ and addresses the need to connect work so “teams can rapidly uncover faults or errors that would otherwise go unnoticed.”

Gartner predicts that “by 2023, organizations that promote data sharing will outperform their peers on most business value metrics”.’* Yet, trust is key—identifying trusted data and locating trusted data sources remain a challenge.

I’m excited about this report because I fundamentally agree with the premise - uncovering faults and errors while also elevating trust in data are the cornerstones of improved operational performance. But how [exactly] are trusted and reliable data sources identified? The short answer is conversations.

“… if companies don’t have a solution for integrating and connecting the information within these tools, the result is 100 different business apps creating 100 different silos.”

The suggestion that business app number 101 (i.e., Airtable), which creates yet another silo of information, will magically address enterprise collaboration is a big reach for me and especially so for a company that does not regard conversations about “data” as data.

There is no API in Airtable that would allow for the sharing, analysis, or decision-making processes concerning anything that people have said about their data assets. And this is the case despite requests in this community dating as far back as 2017.

Imagine if the users of a specific base knew that Mary in accounting called out a specific record as “deeply inaccurate information” in a comment?

Today, Airtable users cannot know this without reading all conversations, a task most workers have little time for. And even if they took the time, there’s no assurance they might spot this issue inside the Airtable commenting system, which includes all event activity, further making this an unreadable cesspool of stuff. This lack of visibility and deepening fracture of potentially critical content forces Mary to escalate notification, and how she achieves that is by leaning on a different silo, perhaps silo #92. :winking_face:

When will vendors realize that conversations are data?

We live in an API economy that stands at the doorstep of deep analytics for all information, including audio, video, and text. These are the fundamental data assets that form the foundation of modern collaboration. And yet - we pass over these assets and treat them no differently than email.

Email is Where Knowledge Goes to Die

As an obvious and long-truthful indictment of email as this may be, conversations about data are no different; it’s where knowledge (about the data) tends to be camouflaged from the visible collaborative spectrum. My experience with Airtable users is that comments are where knowledge about data assets goes to die.

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Good analysis, @Bill.French.

It would be a very welcome addition for Airtable to open up the commenting system to the API.

As it stands now, we need to recreate our own commenting systems from scratch by using tables & records.

Also, even if Airtable did open up the commenting system to the API, there are still issues with comments while using the Airtable grid view itself.

For example, unless you create an interface, comments are intertwined with activity. There should be a filter to see either comments or activity or both.

Ergo, micro-silos upon silos of data. Good point, and why I must ask – of what benefit is it to move from macro-silos to micro-silos? The outcome is the same - fractured collaborative processes.