The 15 most useful terms in digital collaboration

eXo Platform Blog

Do you know what asynchronous communication means? What do ESN, DMS, and KM stand for?

If you are interested in finding out, this post is for you. Indeed, like any field, digital collaboration uses its own set of words and acronyms, which can be somewhat obscure for a newcomer. We wanted to list some of the most useful terms in one place, providing a quick crash course for those looking for a collaborative solution.

Intranets Content Management Community Management
1. Company Intranet
2. Intranet portal: A traditional Intranet
3. Modern Intranet, Social Intranet, Collaboration Platform and Digital Workplace
4. ESN – Enterprise Social Network
5. Social Collaboration
6. Asynchronous vs synchronous (real-time) communication
7. Digital Collaboration
8. DMS – Document Management System
9. DAM – Digital Asset Management
10. CMS / WCM – Content Management System / Web Content Management
11. ECM – Enterprise Content Management
12. Taxonomy and Folksonomy
13. KM – Knowledge Management
14. Client Extranet
15. Community Management Software

As we are not the Oxford dictionary, we did not aim at exhaustiveness, rather at simplicity and brevity. We also provided some examples and useful contexts to ease understanding.

  • Intranets

  1. Company Intranet

A company intranet is a virtual place where an employee can get information (company news, for instance) and accomplish tasks (subscribe to a company event, for example). From the technical point of view, there are endless variations for “what information” and “what tasks,” allowing for a variety of employee experiences.

Furthermore, each intranet represent its company. There really are no two intranets alike.

  1. Intranet portal: A traditional Intranet

Intranets appeared in the 90s and were originally built on software called a portal. Usually, such intranets (or intranet portals) focus on relaying information to employees. Typically, an intranet would display for each employee company news, their department’s news, their personal information and information from some of their applications. Today, such information display intranets are called traditional intranets.

  1. Modern Intranet, Social Intranet, Collaboration Platform and Digital Workplace

Today, intranets have evolved from simple top-down information displays to sophisticated communication and collaboration platforms.

Social intranets use a social activity stream as the core of the employee experience and corporate communication. Typically, the activity stream would not only provide a means for employee interaction, it would also include company news and notifications from the company’s most important systems.

Collaboration platforms focus on teamwork, providing employees with collaboration tools as part of their intranets.

Digital workplaces are employee centered and focus on individual engagement and productivity. The idea is to allow an employee to be as efficient working remotely as when they are is working in the office, in terms of their individual tasks and interactions with others.

The social, collaborative and employee-centered aspects often coexist within the same intranet.

  1. ESN – Enterprise Social Network

First appearing in the 2000s, enterprise social networks adapted social networking concepts for enterprises. Typically, employees can find and connect with each other and exchange information via a social activity stream.

They differ from social intranets in that they are a separate part of the company software suite rather than its center and core.

  1. Social Collaboration

This term signifies corporate virtual collaboration that mainly relies on enterprise social tools.

  1. Asynchronous vs synchronous (real-time) communication

Asynchronous communication is used to describe communication and exchanges via an activity stream or email. When you leave a message for someone, you do not expect an instantaneous response.

Synchronous (real-time) communication happens when you call or chat with someone.<h3>

  1. Digital Collaboration

This term applies to all forms of virtual collaboration tools, such as for social collaboration, project management and document collaboration.

Digital communication tools


  • Content Management

  1. DMS – Document Management System

This is software that allows safe and convenient document storage and sharing. Typically, documents would be placed in an online file system, with controlled access depending on the user’s permission. Usually some form of version control is embedded to avoid loss of data.

  1. DAM – Digital Asset Management

This is analogous to a DMS but it is for assets other than documents (videos, etc.).

  1. CMS / WCM – Content Management System / Web Content Management

This is software that allows you to create, modify and publish web page content, directly updating the website. Typically, the software would allow several users to collaborate on a piece of content, supporting validation workflows and version control.

  1. ECM – Enterprise Content Management

This term usually goes beyond pure software and it also includes processes and methods used in the company to organize, store and deliver content. From the software point of view, ECM is an umbrella term that includes DMS, DAM and WCM.

  1. Taxonomy and Folksonomy

These terms are used in relation to a DMS. Taxonomy means classifying documents into categories (in a file system). Folksonomy is a user-generated system, through tags.

  1. KM – Knowledge Management

This refers to the set of processes, methods and tools a company uses to capture, store and make its knowledge accessible. Knowledge can exist in digital form (documents) but also in a dematerialized form (an oral tradition or an employee’s experience).

  • Community Management

  1. Client Extranet

This is a portal where each customer has access to a private space with relevant information and support. Like intranets, extranets are typically built over a portal and they started to be used in the 90s. Today, they increasingly include some modern community management capabilities, such as social collaboration.

  1. Community Management Software

This is software designed to engage, nurture and leverage the company’s community. The software would typically include web content management, a social activity stream and some analytics.

intranet software


What is collaboration?

Collaboration is “the situation of two or more people working together to create or achieve the same thing”.

See the full definition of collaboration

What are the different types of collaboration in business?

Here are some definitions of digital workplace:

  • Team collaboration
  • Cross-departmental and interdisciplinary collaboration
  • Community collaboration
  • Strategic partnerships and alliances
  • Supply chain collaboration

Find out the different types of collaboration in business

How to choose the best type of collaboration?

In order to effectively find the right type of collaboration for your business, you have to follow a strategic approach and answer three common yet critical questions: Where are we? Where do we want to be? And how to get there?
Find out How to choose the best type of collaboration

Why collaboration is important?

At the internal level, businesses try to encourage and seek to incorporate different forms of collaboration in the workplace to lay the foundations for teams to be able to work together with an aim to achieve higher levels of success.

Externally, businesses look to engage in collaborative actions to benefit from others’ expertise, to gather the opinions of their customer base and to get customers and other stakeholders more involved in the development of products and services.

Find out why collaboration is important

What are the benefits of collaboration in the workplace?

Here are some of the benefits of collaboration in the workplace:

  1. Foster innovation and creativity
  2. Better problem solving
  3. Effectively handle times of crises
  4. Engage and align teams
  5. Increase motivation
  6. Attract talents

Find out the benefits of collaboration in the workplace

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I am the Chief Executive Officer of eXo Platform (the open source digital workplace platform), a company that I co-founded while in college and that I came back to after several years in the banking and consulting industry. I blog about modern work, about open-source and sovereignty issues. Occasionally, I also blog about my personal areas of interest, such as personal development, work–life balance, sustainability and gender equality.

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