Over the past few weeks i’ve been working on a new project with 5 others who are spread across the country. Meeting up is difficult due to work / college / life… it’s rare all six of us will be free at the same time on the same date…
So the need for collaboration tools & strategy is great… We need to be able to communicate quickly, structure plans, document things in some sort of ordered fashion whilst at the same time making everything easily accessible and pretty to look at. We also want to keep things free, so no monthly fees. Here’s some of the stuff i’ve either looked at or put in to place already…
Everyone knows how to use a forum. They understand how it works. If they don’t, then we’re in trouble considering this is an web based project phpBB is probably the most popular / familiar open source forum software so that’s what we’re using and so far, it’s working out pretty well.
I hate getting tonnes of emails myself. Even though gmail stores everything it’s not easy to manage multiple emails coming in at once from a group of people related to the same thing. So email for me isn’t good enough. It’s too slow and too messy.
I love Google talk. I’m signed in permanently to google talk using a desktop app so if people want to contact me, they can do so. It’s like an open door in an office… a green ‘available’ light says the same thing in google talk. Not everyone uses google accounts though (don’t ask me why!), so it’s still quite difficult to catch everyone online at the same time and get them all in to a group conversation.
I’m signed in to skype permanently too but most of the time i’m down as ‘invisible’ or offline which means nobody knows i’m signed in. I do that because skype is a dangerous thing… people think it’s ok to call the same way it’s ok to send an email or open a chat conversation. It’s not… i like to know when people are going to call me or what the conversation will be about in advance. Because i can’t search through a phone call like i can with an email, or save it as a reference, i find a lot of time spent talking is time wasted. Which is fine if it’s the early days of a project or a relationship and you’re feeding your way in to it and trying to get to know people, but not so fine down the line, in non-essential situations.
Ring, ring… hows it going? Those type of conversations are the reason why i’m not visible in skype all the time. But it can be incredibly useful for group conversations or group chats.
It’s hard to mention collaboration tools without mentioning the daddy of them – basecamp. I’ve tried all sorts of alternatives and open source software which you install on your own server but none of them are as easy and simple to use as basecamp. It’s free to set up 1 project, but you pay and pay well if you want storage space and want the ability to manage multiple projects.
Still, with the free version you can create milestones, to do lists, messages, add multiple users, collaborative writing of documents so nobody overwrites anyone else’s work… they also have a very cool mobile friendly website built in html5.
The thing about google docs is that there’s no messing about with different versions of software and corrupt files etc… everything just works. Plus everyone can edit & share docs easily. I use google docs for a lot of things but it’s mainly all for my personal use. As a collaboration tool i’m not so sure… again everyone needs Google accounts to access & share stuff but i don’t think google have nailed the collaboration aspect. Zoho seem to be slightly better in that regard.
Custom Built Private Website
This is probably the best option but it’s also the most time consuming. I’ve used wordpress & drupal in the past to try and manage projects and it’s works in terms of documentation. It makes it easy to find stuff. In terms of messaging / assigning tasks etc… again it falls short. To build your own system takes time and if it’s never going to be seen or used by the outside world then it’s time that could probably be better spent elsewhere.
When it comes to tracking changes in code and logging everything good and bad, trac is the man for the job. It’s kinda like a helpdesk / wiki / version control system. No project should be without it.