Writely frustrations… and ideas

On: October 10, 2006
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About Twan Eikelenboom
One of the first Masters of Media to crawl upon this blog (2006/2007)! Still following (and at times contributing) to this great project. Working at Dutch sectorinstitute for e-culture Virtueel Platform. Special interest in stories resulting from new media product use (think: sat nav gone wrong) and independent gaming. Also blogging at http://newmw.wordpress.com


In the Masters of Media class we’ve been trying out Writely.com for a couple of assignments in the past weeks. Not so long ago the online word processor was acquired by Google. The idea is very promising: “Share documents instantly & collaborate in realtime.” So we decided to take it for a test-drive, but so far all attempts have failed to create one united, democratic post. Here is my view on why the Web 2.0 application falls short on the collaborative aspects, and causes more frustration than collaboration.

Update: Writely was just renamed and integrated into Google Docs and Spreadsheets.


Two cases
First let me start by saying that our group with eight people might be larger than the average Writely collaboration. The first thing we tried to do was set up a few guidelines, or top ten rules, for cooperation on Writely. By using various colors we distinguished ourselves and things seemed to go fluently in the classroom. But when I got back home and got back to the Writely document I was hesitating if I could for example edit, or maybe delete text that was added to my entry. In short: I needed to discuss it instantly.

The second try also suffered from the above problem, but in kind of a different way. We’re now in the proces of -or at least trying to- creating a combined (blog)post on the infamous Shocklogs. There was some writing already in the document and I added some lines, but the main problem with this was that we couldn’t decide anyhing about the form of the document because -again- there was no way to discuss the subject directly. Of course you can use the document like a chatbox, but that messes up your whole layout and with more than two people you get quite a chaotic document.

What would be very useful is a small Writely chatbox so you can chat with your collaborators directly. An instant messaging option would make the program a lot better for use in bigger groups. Or why not a “you decide” button which let’s Writely juggle the text by itself, whatever gets the job done! This second solution might sound a bit over-the-top, but I could imagine an option that lets you put different colors of text together automatically. Or one document which could use a multitude of tabs, one for discussion and one for the actual document. Just some ideas.

Can it be that we are the problem? That we need a more organized approach? Maybe, but the lack of specific collaborative options makes it very hard to actually complete a document with a lot of people. And yes… I do know it’s beta…

(also posted on newmw.wordpress.com)

14 Responses to “Writely frustrations… and ideas”
  • October 10, 2006 at 10:48 am

    […] (also posted on mastersofmedia.hum.uva.nl) […]

  • October 10, 2006 at 12:33 pm

    I think we can use writely for our wiki entry if we set tasks.

    in class we can decide who will do what. We can clearly not work together on one paragraph.

    If we divide the tasks/paragraphs:
    One person is in charge of the links. One person in charge for the sumary, for the history, for the influence, for academic research, and one person for how shocklogs are represented in the media.

    That leaves two people without work. I suggest one of is in charge of putting the writely in wikipedia.

    Any suggestions?

  • October 10, 2006 at 2:12 pm

    I think that sounds like a good idea! If we divide the tasks than it is easier to come to an article/ entry…

    I don’t mind being the one who puts the entry on wikipedia….

  • October 10, 2006 at 4:27 pm

    either way an interesting experiment. i wonder how much it depends on the type of content. Obviously a list is easy to collaborate on blogposts and editorials are not. the chat box seems like a good idea, but what about some way of ranking parts of the text? With eight people some kind of ‘vote’ might settle things.

    btw sorry i’m commenting on an experiment i didn’t take part in..

  • October 10, 2006 at 4:37 pm

    Michael that is fine! Anyone’s opinion is welcome!

  • October 10, 2006 at 4:42 pm

    With the last comment I meant that we are hoping more people would comment on our posts and get involved in our discussions. We’re not waiting to get shut down with a spam overload, but intelligent comments on our posts are always welcome!

  • October 10, 2006 at 7:49 pm

    Since my rule of our writely document “Ten Rules of Collaboration” (which ironically got stuck at rule number 4) was to indicate a so called collaboration manager, can we maybe do that for writing this new document?

    Roman, since you wrote down the tasks, could you maybe also divide the tasks? (and than that could just be your task ;))

  • October 10, 2006 at 8:42 pm

    haha… I see.. even managers have a boss.. and i c thats u ;)

    I will make a skeleton wiki entry and a list of ‘suggested’ names to fill the paragraphs

  • October 10, 2006 at 10:33 pm

    So I have to write my part in the Wikipedia? Did we officially abandon Writely? How do we discuss the different parts?

  • October 10, 2006 at 10:42 pm

    Apparently you can directly publish your Writely documents on your (e.g. WordPress) blog: http://www.dutchcowboys.nl/software/8186/fromfeed (in Dutch) or http://krijnen.com/archives/000524.shtml (in English)

  • October 10, 2006 at 11:22 pm

    writely in this case seems double-trouble (eeh… dubbelop)

  • October 11, 2006 at 12:54 am

    Double-effort-ish… Or something like that! :)

    The dividing of the tasks is a good idea, thanks for the list! But don’t you all agree that in a program where collaboration is one of the main features, there should be options which make good collaboration possible in the first place?

    Ranking on parts of a collaborative text sounds like a fresh idea by the way, more ideas?

  • October 12, 2006 at 12:23 am

    The problem with a wiki or a blogpost is that it’s hosted right off the bat. That’s no problem with a local wiki, but you’re going to get your ass fried on the wikipedia sites.

    I think the fact that what you create in writely doesn’t get published until you want it to is its key advantage over other kinds of collaborative writing online.

    In other words, let’s not write it off completely.

    The IRC channel is still there (irc.utonet.org:6667 #MoM) and I’ve already seen Twan and Anne pop by. It’s a bit of an overkill to bother with the channel for writely only, but since we’re all in the same class we might as well use it for, well, anything MoM-related.

    Twan’s suggestions for an upgrade of writely are valid though. There needs to be some kind of easy yet powerful way to discuss things. A discussion tab and a chat would certainly be the way to go.

  • October 12, 2006 at 10:13 am

    A planning tool would also be useful. It doesn’t have to be a tool like Remember the Milk , but something simpler would really be useful as we are now planning outside of the tool were using to create the document.

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