Working in groups 2

March 25, 2014 § 2 Comments

Last time I wondered what was the best application for working collaboratively. The answer is that there are almost as many options as there are apps and that there are also many ecosystems that do not necessarily work well with each other. I see four ways of handling or presenting collaboration through the cloud:

  1. First, sharing files. This method is presented as placing a shared folder in the cloud and sharing access to it. Dropbox is the quintessential example, but Mac, Microsoft, Google, etc. all major players have a cloud exchange option.
  2. Second, synchronizing files. Many apps take advantage of folders in the cloud to synchronize documents. The philosophy of this approach is app-centered and not folder-centered. Examples of apps that use Dropbox are Quip, Simple note, Scrivener, etc.
  3. Three, real-time simultaneous edition. Only a few apps you work collaboratively in real time without creating multiple versions of documents and annotations. GoogleDrive excels at simultaneous collaboration.
  4. Four, the borrowing model. Collaborating on documents through annotations that are accepted or rejected by the owner of the document can be complemented with a metaphor of “library borrowing”. Apple iCloud, or Microsoft OneDrive, are examples of this. You create a document and share it by placing it in the cloud. Only one person can edit a document at the time. As in a library, a person “borrows” the document to work on it and then puts it back in the cloud. This avoids having parallel contradictory edits. Each major ecosystem has a cloud, Microsoft, Adobe, Apple, Google, etc. and each major app has the option of using either the cloud or our personal computers as the central node (think OmniPresence)
  5. Fifth, collaborative editing of websites through wikis. Essentially, a wiki is a web page with an open-editing system. Public wikis are mostly web-based: PBWorks, Wikispaces, Wikia, EduWikis. They can be open as Wikipedia limited to groups such as Google Apps), or even personal such as Notational Velocity / SimpleNote. which allows for opening one single note in your app to function as a wiki for collaboration.

GoogleApps. The good: Ranks the highest in collaboration and breath of tasks. The Bad: When you want more specific or aesthetic results it may be limited. In the practice Google unapologetic monitoring of user activity and “prosumer” focus. Many people I want to work with who are not necessarily neo-Luddites, don’t want to use Google because of resistance to accumulation of power and world domination. (Google+ really crossed the line for many) 😐

Microsoft OneDrive. The good: Microsoft Office set a standard for a reason. It can do many, many tasks and do them right. The online version is almost as powerful and versatile as the desktop one. There is almost seamless collaboration between platforms (Windows, Mac OS, Linux) The bad: Microsoft has a bad reputation for taking control over your personal computer, as well as attracting and being vulnerable to viruses and hackers. It can be clunky and overbearing with unnecessary options. It is also heavy in terms of hard drive space. In the practice: Microsoft doesn’t seem to be going in the right direction. Office for iPad and iPhone has been developed and not released for a long time, allowing other programs such as Quip, to eat up Office potential market share there. It seems that Microsoft represents the past, not the future, and as such it is not that exciting. Of course we are all aware of the “distortion field” Microsoft lovers claim affect the followers of the cult of Apple. Still, the hard fact is that many of the people I want to collaborate with outside my university, which uses Google Apps, do not want to sign up for Google or Microsoft whom they distrust for handling personal information. 😐

OpenOffice.The good: It is open source. Is similar to Google Drive only resident in your computer. The bad: It is open source, so it is not consistent or aesthetic as Apple apps. If you have Microsoft Office and Apple suits, it is pretty much redundant. Does not have any specific feature that makes it particularly attractive (such as Mellel-Bookends handling of non-western typographies, or ScrivenerScapleSente writer-studio approach) In the practice: OpenOffice is bland and unexciting 😦

Apple apps. The good: Keynote works great. They are aesthetic. Almost no viruses, malware or corruption. The bad: Apple suits are being streamlined and stripped of relevant tools. They take massive disk space, and cloud collaboration is too basic, tending to produce multiple copies of the same document in each device iPad, iPhone, cloud, and Desktop, every time you work with it. These copies then multiply further once you synchronize devices via iTunes. Apple does not offer real powerful tools to harness this proliferation of copies or reduce the size of email attachment folders other than go over each email separately. In the practice: Too poor to use for any serious collaborative project, even for a hard core mac user like me. This is not an isolated problem but rather pervasive in Apple handling of files. Think for example of how iTunes backs up your iPhone and iPad, creating copies of every app that is on them, which you could easily re-download from the App store if you needed.

Wikis. The good: Great if you work with Web 2.0 platforms, openly and to create crowd-based documents as in Genius or Wikipedia. Very good if you want to maintain collaboratively a project website. Very good for the « veille documentaire » and use of private Wikis. Very good if you want to keep information you are gathering through long periods of time. The bad: Seems good for collecting and publishing, not drafting documents or research. Google Sites still works best. In the practice: Good for keeping sponsors  and constituency informed, building a public image, or editing collaboratively a website with various types of files, images, texts, graphs, and videos. Could be a major time-robber. Possible use in the classroom to teach white papers and database construction as well.

The last piece of information to consider is privacy. The cloud is vulnerable, and several universities and private organizations prevent collaborations that put sensitive information in the cloud.

 

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Working in groups

February 26, 2014 § Leave a comment

Interesting questions are never answered by one person alone. Not that they once were, and then now they are not, but the romantic pretension of one author-one text has been loosing traction in many fields for a long time. So what is the app for teamwork?

I see there are actually tons.

Google Apps, Skydrive, iCloud and the new Mailbox/Dropbox interface all let you work collaboratively. Adobe Cloud and all major suits are offering cloud integration too. You have the usual suspects in desktop applications: Conceptdraw Project, Merlin, OmniPlan, xPlan all of which have a considerable learning curve and demand a very significant amount of time to input data if you want them to be useful. Some interesting programs such as ProjectX and Mori no longer exist.

There are many cloud-based project management apps that seem to be more flexible. A simple Internet search shows some of the top contenders for small projects used to be Basecamp, Jira, Asana and Trello but that people are fleeing away from Basecamp in large numbers and Jira needs a degree in Jira before being useful. Asana is oriented towards CEOs and Trello towards team members. Mark Suster wrote an interesting comparison of them here. Flow, Convo, Podio, Mavenlink, ProWorkFlow, NetSuite, Wrike, Insightly, Liquidplanner, Freshbooks, WorkZone, OpenProject… the list seems endless. Streak adds  Customer Relationship Management (CRM) to your Google email, Boomerang adds functionality to your Google calendar, etc. Some of those apps seem to be suited for business, others for architects, I haven’t seen one clearly directed to research groups, although I have been invited to collaborate on some research using Google Apps and Adobe Cloud.

An interesting fact is that you can find 2014 reviews of the “10 best Project Management software for Mac” that do not cite any of these apps!

What app would be better to manage a small research group / think tank? The question is still open…

 

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