I’m starting to appreciate that the big problem with communications is providing context. If you look at a typical work-related email thread – especially when it includes more than a couple of people – every email includes the content of the previous emails. In other words, each email has to include all the necessary context. A long exchange of emails can come to resemble the pile of dishes on the draining board after a big dinner: a huge disorganised jumble in imminent danger of collapse, which no-one dare touch! The context provided by each email is usually incomplete of course. Even if the overall thread is completely self-contained, the conversation is very rarely entirely symmetrical (even if there are only 2 people involved).

On the other hand, a typical word-processing document has absolutely no context. You can’t see the raft of discussion and horse-trading which went into agreeing the content of the document. Nor can you see which individuals were involved in its creation.  OK, you can turn on the Track Changes option (not that many people do), but even then you’re missing loads of context because emails and related documents are not included.

Blogs and wikis are very good at context. Using comment threads and hyperlinks, they can have as much context as you like – but without any of the duplication or selective omission you expect in an email. Everything is laid out neatly, and everything is inter-linked. When you view a comment, you’re one-click away from seeing all the comments, posts and documents which comprise its context.

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