I don’t understand why email is so often disregarded when it comes to collaboration software. Everyone wants to talk about how their software gets you out of email – whereas when you look at how organizations operate email always plays a fundamental role in how information is shared.
When we set out to build Community Server 4 years ago one of the bigger problems we wanted to solve was how to remove technology as the barrier for creating communities. Much of my own motivation for this was from my time at Microsoft where I worked with communities. The communities were typically either newsgroups, in-person meet-ups, web-based discussion, or email list based. The problem was that while all communities could benefit from one another they were separated by technology boundaries, i.e. those in the email distribution list community didn’t participate in the newsgroup communities largely because of technology reasons.
Community Server was the first community platform to integrate email into our offering and we’re continuing to innovate here. In fact, we did the same thing for newsgroups too – but this integration is really most popular with super-technical communities.
Email integration today consists of enabling any forum or blog to be setup with a unique email address so that users can send/receive content. For a blog it simply means an ability to publish via email, for forums it enables any forum to behave similar to a distribution list and then transcribe all content back to the forum.
With the recent release of Community Server 2008.5 we’ve done even more to enhance email integration:
- Groups & Micro-communities – each group or micro-community receives its own unique email address. Plus when integrated with an email system like Microsoft Exchange this also becomes a tool for managing the creation and membership of Microsoft Exchange Distribution Lists (something that was supported previously by a tool called AutoDL in the Exchange Resource Kit). This takes the burden off the IT team for creating and managing Distribution Lists.
- Smart Archiving – content sent over a email list integrated with Community Server is automatically separated into body and thread and then transcribed into a forum. Now the content is re-discoverable, indexed (searchable), and picks up a number of other attributes associated back to the user’s profile.
- Attachments – attachments sent via email are automatically stored and versioned in the Community Server media gallery. Once in the media gallery the attachments are also then indexed by the search engine and also support comments, ratings, and other tools for sharing the attachment.
- Business Intelligence and Analysis – most importantly once content is within Community Server it is analyzed by our BI tool to give credit and reputation to the author as well as to track how important content is.
We’re doing even more with email integration in our next major Community Server update. Building social graph information from email as well as building additional archiving tools are all things we’ve discussed. Ultimately though its users that benefit the most from the email integration work.
Email integration makes social software more accessible and user friendly because it doesn’t force people to change the way they work… it just improves it.