Episode 0032 - Solitary Collaboration

Together we can stand on the shoulders of giants, but we might need some kind of tool to pull it off. So what tools for collaboration are there, and can the AIITR get them to work?

Podcast: Download OGG (42.0 MB) | Download mp3 (69.1 MB) | Duration: 01:13:22

"Unity is strength... when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved."
-- Mattie Stepanek, Poet
One Cool Thing
"Today's latte, Trello." Original (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Yuko Honda.

We are officially back in action! The center of attention this time is collaboration software. What are the best tools for that new project at work, when planning a holiday with your family or starting a softball team with your friends? What's an easy way to share small everyday tasks with others? There's a lot of different tools out there, and one of them might just suit you.

The simplest form of collaboration is perhaps when working on a text with someone. When writing these show notes we use Google Docs, one of three office softwares from Google (together with Sheets and Slides). It saves your work through Google Drive, the cloud storage solution from the same company. Most of the big software giants have this kind of solution today (Microsoft have the familiar Word, Excel and PowerPoint apps and save to OneDrive, while Apple have Pages, Numbers and Keynote which saves to iCloud) and almost all of them are available to use through your web browser or as a native app on your platform of choice. Kenneth also mentions that LibreOffice (the continuation of OpenOffice) has a collaboration feature, but as far as we can see this still is an experimental feature.

When it comes to code (you know, that confusing magic that makes everything work) sharing and collaboration the big player is GitHub, a service many developers use in their daily work. Another small tool that Henrik is using is Codeshare.io, which works perfect for sharing pieces of code or even plain text with someone. Kenneth also mentions Bitbucket, which is a more advanced solution for larger teams.

What about smaller tools for note keeping, list sharing and team collaboration? Robin and his wife have been using the ColorNote app for Android, which works perfect for simple notes and lists. A thing to remember with these kinds of solutions is that all members must do their part, so don't forget to check the cucumbers of the list when you go shopping or else you'll end up hosting a tzatsiki party. Henrik and his girlfriend uses a similar app, Google Keep. It started out as a simple notes app but has become more feature packed over time, including features like pinning a photo or simple drawing to a note, writing a note using your voice and setting reminders through Google Calendar. It works on both Android and iOS as well as your browser of choice.

But the big player when it comes to note keeping is Evernote, a cross-platform app. Kenneth has been using it a little bit, but don't really understand the hype. A part of the explanation can perhaps be found in their premium subscription plan, which includes features like pdf annotations, scanning of business cards and robust search and history features, perfect for people running their own small business. Kenneth mentions that Evernote also has tie-ins to Slack, a feature heavy collaboration tool that many teams use and love.

Another simple way to collaborate with work mates or family members is Google Calendar. The share tools makes it possible to simply share all of your calendar info, or a more private alternative that simply shows you as busy or free.

A service which builds upon the simple idea of post-it notes is Trello, which we use to plan and organize this podcast (the first year we used Google Wave, which Google discontinued in 2012 and Apache continued to develop under the same name). Basically you have a board (think of a white board). Then you have lists, where the individual cards (post-it notes) are located. For instance, we have a list just for this episode, E0032, with cards for the different segments like One Cool Thing, the main topic, info regarding the metadata, etc. You are able to assign a card to one or more users of the boards, set a due date, attach files, add labels, checklists and also comment on the card. It's easy to apply this kind of tool on many different use cases, e.g. on a project at work, when planning a party, a move, a trip or just for scheduling stuff in your own life.

Kenneth has looked a bit at Google Spaces, a new app from the search giant. It feels a bit like a mini-forum, a closed garden for your friends and/or family to share and communicate around a single topic. You post text, images or links which other people invited into this "space" can look at and comment on. It takes a few ideas from the dead Google Wave project and combine with the organizing spirit we find in Trello and present it more in the manner of a social media feed or a group chat.

Another type of useful tool is the scheduling service Doodle, and many other apps like it are available on the web. Let's say you want to find a date and time that you and your four friends can go out together. You fill in all the times you are available the next couple of weeks and invite all your friends to do the same. When you (hopefully) find a spot where all of you are free, you can sync this time to your calendar. It's a very effective way to quickly plan stuff with other people.

So, are this plethora of amazing apps and services actually helping us to be more effective or not? Robin isn't really sure what to think, but notes that we have to keep in mind that this includes sharing a lot of our personal information with different companies. Henrik looks at it like tools in a toolbox, where one might be useful in many use cases and another one in just a few. One drawback that he mentions is that most of these services require a unique user account, which might divide friends and coworkers rather than unifying, depending on your choice of smartphone or computer manufacturer, for instance. Kenneth agrees and notes that the important thing in the end is that you find something that sticks, and works for you and the people you collaborate with.

Hardware of the Episode

This time Kenneth shares his love for his Chromebook, an Asus Chromebook C100P. The two downsides are the propriatery charger and the lack of a back-lit keyboard. But otherwise it is a glowing review. Get the updated version (C100PA), or find one second hand. This is a really cool device!

Let us wrap this up!

Send your feedback to the group !aiitr at Identi.ca or mark it with hashtag #aiitr at Twitter, you find me at both Identi.ca and Twitter as @AlltInomIT. Henrik you find at @Warpfuz and Robin at @RobinHarming.

Theme music today by Yunus.
Music is released under Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 DE.

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