February 10, 2004

Uncompany part deux: in search of collaborative space for indies

There were so many great comments in the last post that I want to bring them up a level into a post. One reason, besides the wealth of resources offered in the comments, is because my head hurts so badly at the moment that I've been fantasizing about cracking it open on a rock. You know, just to release the pressure. Like an egg. Crack. mmmmmmmm.

So before I go do that, let's recap:

Laurent offered a take on CVS, tiki, wiki, and tikiwiki but admitted that the non-techy among us (I'll cop) could have a hard time collaborating this way, and more importantly, a hard time getting clients comfortable with the notion: programmers have had a tool like that for years (cvs), and several entities host public servers anybody can use to shape rhizomatic gangs iof developers who are several scales of magnitudes more efficient than the hierarchically organized corporate herds of code monkeys... Sadly enough most non programers have been lured into using broken tools like microsoft software, quark Xpress or flash whose proprietary formats constitute a major obstacle for open groupware.

Elizabeth feels my pain, and is currently cobbling a typepad blog as a workspace, but would like to see something more affordable, and more powerful: I am experimenting with a TypePad blog as a hosted collaborative space. Not as robust as e-Room, but could be a stop-gap measure. I'll let you know how it goes. Yes, Please!

Janet, who's got a way cool blog posts about the possibilities of a centralized collaborative workspace for indies here. I think Janet rocks. Only one of the reasons I think so is because she thinks I'm right: As someone whose been working outside the corporate walls for 18 years, I am with you 100% on the need for such a collaborative workspace. We've all become more loosely tethered these last few years. Fewer of us are in corporations even though we may contract with them. I'm a software developer (FileMaker Pro), so I'm always looking for how software can bridge the gaps between us as we operate as free agents. We sorely need to collaborate with each other freely, quickly and easily (and as you point out, securely). I would love to hear more of your discoveries along these lines.

Gerry, who also rocks, asks what exactly we want this space to do--or what, actually, we want to be able to do there. Janet and Elizabeth, I'm going to put this out to you too as I assemble my own list. What everyone said in comments combined with my last post would be a good start. 1) hosted, 2) secure, 3) lots of storage space, easy drag/copy and drop/paste, levels of privileges for team members set by the project administrator come to mind (and I will think some more).

Gerry asks specifically: Within the spaces, what do you need? Bloggish features would be easy enough, but collaboration tends to be structured differently than the journal with comments design of blogs. If you like Wikis, there are many good implementations, and I have one I've extended to be even more flexible. I imagine you need to upload files and documents as well (i.e. Word docs (ick), spreadsheats, graphics, animations, ...)? What about contact management, does e-room manage that too or did you expect to have a seperate tool for that? Anything else? Maybe describe some specific things that e-room could do that you found particularly powerful.

Gerry offers to go one further, and don't we love him for it? YES, we do. So let's give him a feature list. He says this about that: I'm willing to do a new round of research, but I need more detail about the key features. From your post, I can see that you need to be able to establish "spaces" to work on specific projects (and maybe organize into sub-projects, etc.), and now you want to be able to network between independents rather than exclusively within an organization. Some of the concerns here are privacy and security, you want to be able to control access to potentially sensitive information. This is potentially one of the most challenging aspects of this application, both hard to implement correctly and potentially difficult to administer.

Prentiss mentions SocialText, which I haven't had a chance to check out, but I will. You too. I think the enterprise solution, SocialText Workspace, might be the closest to what we're talking about--maybe even beyond. There's also a great post over there exploring various angles of "Enterprise Social Software," but when I see the word enterprise, I know it's going to cost--probably more than a band of indies can cough up...

Gerry comes back and points to some great related writings in Tutorville:

Reputation System for Charities and Grantees?

E-Democracy as Special Interest Group

Who Owns Internet Utopia? And How is it Governed?

Chaordic Community

He also points to this post for a deeper look.

Gerry then sees us a PR and Marketing solution and raises us a place for sales and PM: Personally, I think that the sales and project managment roles can be virtualized too. What you end up with is sort of a "virtual agency" where the sales, marketing and PM roles have the bulk of the customer contact and the work product is delivered through the PM role and these overhead roles get an appropriate piece of the action.

I AGREE! YES! And so does Laurent, who says this could make for an exciting project.

WSHEW!!! Ya'll are kicking some collaborative butt over here.

As a side note, I also got an email from Jason Fried about Basecamp, and he says they'll be adding a lot of what we're loooking for. I said that's awesome, quick Jason, quick!

Okay, discuss. I need to sleep on all this.... Thanks for your participation and brainpower and enthusiasm.

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