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Wednesday, December 20, 2006
.pdf: where information goes to die
Listening to:traffic and street noise
Reading:and the ass saw the angel, nick cave<
Weather:sunny and 50's
I so desperately need a nap. I've said it a million times, this office needs a couch. Not for frequent slacking, no, just for the occasional powernap that would actually be productivity enhancing. How cool would that be. Especially today.

I'm always trying new tech stuff for various reasons and for the fun of it, but one pervasive problem I keep trying to solve with tech is how to effectively, efficiently, and happily collaboratively create stuff. Especially among remote partners.

I've been totally down with wiki for quite a while now, though it seems to be working much better among non-remote people, like the folk in my office. In part because we designed it to make everyone's daily work groovier. And in part because I'm here frequently saying "that's a great idea, why don't you put that up on the wiki?" and "you can find all that info on this page of the wiki" and whatnot.

Email is just so close to dead in many ways. I know, you use it copiously everyday, you're screwed when you're internet is down even for an hour, bla bla bla. But let's say you're working on a project with various and sundry folks from other orgs, agencies, businesses, whateveh, and you draft up a nice little one-page thing. Maybe it's a position statement. Or maybe it's a set of goals and objectives. Or a timeline of tasks and events. You all have something to contribute, so how do you do it? Email each other suggestions, have a teleconference, an in-person meeting, right, that's all for the thinking part, but for the actual drafting part, how do you do it? Well, one person usually drafts something, hopefully incorporating everybody's idea contributions and circulates the draft for comment. Well you've got the Word/WordPerfect barrier rearing its ugly head, so a wordprocessing file is less than groovy. Put the text into an email? Then you've got significant formatting limitations. Please don't even consider snail mail, we're not going there. .pdf? Like some smart guy whose name I can't begin to remember said, that's where info goes to die, it's such a cumbersome and locked up format.

Whichever tool you chose, what if the drafter made a really tiny error like a single typo, and you don't want to seem like you're nitpicking or undertake the herculean effort of a mass email just for one lousy digit.

Wiki is the answer for this. For simple, text-based collaboration, throw up a wiki, and if people can use web-based email they can learn to create, edit, and find pages on a wiki. You can password it, or not. You can password editing, but make reading non-passworded. A person can most simply, quickly, easily, without fanfare or even anyone else noticing fix that nagging typo. You can't break it, because one of the essential components of any wiki is the automatic archiving of every version, so you can always revert back to any previous version of any page. You can link to internal and external webpages. It's on the web, not on your computer, so you can access it from anywhere like home, your office, someone else's office, the library, a table at Starbucks with your favorite wireless internet gizmo.

Are you intrigued yet? There's way more. Your project can benefit from a directory or list of the participants and their contact info and maybe their assigned tasks or other stuff. Easy chart to put on the wiki. Then when someone changes email addresses, he can merely change his own contact info on that wiki page. No millions of emails, did I include everyone, will they make the change and use their address books or will they just hit reply-all to an old email next time and I'll miss out on the message, or will they just miss or ignore my address change email because it never reaches the top priority of the 1000+ emails they receive each week.

Or your project might benefit from pages like a wishlist, a mission statement, longterm goals, shortterm goals, resource outlines with links, driving directions to the building where your next meeting is. All that works beautifully on a wiki. Imagine someone adds a page with driving directions, and then someone else jumps on and adds a few landmarks and a link to the Google map, then someone else adds the actual exit numbers. You may need actually desperately need all that stuff, but how cool is it to have it, and it was absolutely painless to incorporate these tiny bits of knowledge up there that might be very helpful to someone. And if you're looking for a good read that supports this collaboration notion very indirectly, check out The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki. In short, he posits that the average guess of any crowd is more accurate than that of any one expert. And the examples he gives are marvelous (how many beans are in the jar, how much does the county fair steer weigh, millionaire's ask the audience lifeline beats the crap out of phone a friend, etc.).

So get wiki wid it.

And up next on cat's blog, she rants, she raves, she bitches like a banshee, because jesus ain't the reason for her season! Or "please put your god on a leash already, sheesh."

permalink posted by cat 1:06 PM

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.pdf: where information goes to die