I am currently working on a project with a colleague and we work in different cities. I assumed that we could very quickly and easily set up an ad-hoc project space somewhere where we could: collaboratively (and simultaneously) edit a rich-text document, store our project files, have a common outliner style task list, and a place to store links, projects, and contacts, as well as the ability to chat back and forth. It apparently does not exist.
I looked at Near Time Flow but it’s still in beta and the beta crashed on my machine – not a good start and this is an important project so I was not prepared to use it and risk the loss. It looks like an interesting piece of software and I look forward to following their progress.
Webex is designed for real-time collaboration, not for shifted time collaboration.
There are some cool things happening over at dotproject.net but it’s all very geeky download-and-compile-this-on-your-server type stuff. Not for an end-user at all.
So that left us with kludgy but workable: SubEthaEdit is where we are collaboratively and simultaneously storing our “scratch space” comments, links, and raw material. I have to say that using SubEthaEdit is a bizarre experience, akin to having somebody remotely control your screen. Until you realize that not only are they typing away, but that YOU can also grab the cursor, put it somewhere, and type your own words somewhere else in the document. It’s simple, elegant, and wonderful. It works via Rendezvous or directly across the internet. I asked the owners of SubEthaEdit if they would add a rich-text or outline format to the software (it only holds raw text.) He replied that if they were going to do anything similar, that it would be a new product. This is currently focused on team programming and they want to keep it that way. I understand that but I think they would sell one hundred times more copies if they made it work with Rich Text. We’ll see.
We are using Adium as our IM client. I highly recommend this application. The icon of the big green duck is brilliant. Although the duck sounds are more like fart sounds, so I have changed them to a different sound set.
And finally I have a folder in my computer that I’m sharing via the freeware application Sharepoint so that my colleague can mount it on her desktop. Now that Mac OS X’s file-share mounting code is much better than in the early days, we are able to leave that mounted on her desktop without any network hangs. And of course, when we go to create our rich-text document, we will need to resort to Word and Excel, those damnable single-user, bloated, buggy tools that we all love to hate. I wish I could switch to a lighter word processor but I have tried them all and inevitably I find some feature that I’m missing that makes me switch back. But because we will not be able to work simultaneously in a document, we will have to split it up into chapters and work on those individually.
This seems to be a really simple need that we have. And I think that with all of the energy and creativity out there working on parts of this puzzle, somebody is going to come along really soon and create an ad-hoc project team space that will have all of this functionality and it will be cross-platform and the birds will sing and the flowers will bloom and happy days will reign on Earth. Or at least we won’t have to use Word anymore. Which is almost as good.