Communication Tools

Collaboration on projects is one of the most important aspects of any project’s development. Some friends and I have begun working on project ideas but distance has been an issue. Much of our initial conversations where in person but when we brought in others who didn’t live quite as close we worried the same level of collaboration wouldn’t be possible. We thought that talking in person was far superior as we could make eye contact, illustrate things, use hand gestures, and everything else used in our discussions. Determined to continue our synergy we decided to take a look at some other options.

Our first thought was to start a message board that would run parallel to our discussions. A forum offers many advantages; it keeps track of everything and everyone would be able to post at their discretion. Time-zones and other time obligations wouldn’t impede on project development. We went ahead and created our own private forum and began discussions. It wasn’t long before we noticed the down-sides to the message board. Some people didn’t check them often and fell behind in discussions so when those who did check would eventually give up when no replies where being posted. The forum worked well but since our group is so small, it instead became a place where we just posted bulletins and notes from meets giving everyone access to the information; still helpful. I think the forum would have been much more successful with a larger team and if everyone was more encouraged to use it.

With the forum, we would still have meetings in person and periodic phone-calls. Phone-calls were used a lot for 1-on-1 communications but we wanted a way that we could make conference calls so that multiple people could attend meetings remotely. Enter Skype.

If you don’t know, and you probably do, Skype is a video/voice conferencing application that uses the internet to make phone calls. When using Skype-to-Skype, calls are free even when there are 3+ people talking. This quickly became a preferred method and even our 1-on-1 calls where being made on Skype. Not only where they free but the quality of Skype is fantastic. When connections are good and everyone has a decent microphone then it sounds as if they are sitting right in the room. When making 1-on-1 calls, users can use video chat too so hand gestures and other presentation aids can still be used. Conference calls using video are possible but require paid accounts.

Instant messaging also provides a huge help during development since we are able to chat with each other at our leisure. This is especially helpful when I’m already working on a project on the computer and want to talk with someone throughout the day. It also allows me to continue listening to my music. Chat can be connected through many different ways, but I use IMO along with my Facebook, Gmail, and even Skype accounts.

Google also has a great chat client but it’s most useful when using another important collaboration tool that Google provides; Google Docs. Google Docs is an online suite of applications used for word-processing, charts, and almost everything you would find in Microsoft Office. Google Docs are obviously not nearly as robust as MS Office but they’re perfect for simple word processing and they’re free. Scripts and other documents can be ‘share’ with other Google users allowing them to view and even edit the documents. Google Docs then keeps track of all changes made so that the document can be taken backwards through its revisions so nothing is ever accidentally lost! Furthermore, and possibly most important, Google Docs allows multiple people to be viewing and editing a document at once. While doing so, a chat window appears on the right so viewing users can chat while working on a document. We prefer to Skype while editing documents in Google Docs but it’s still a great feature.

Similar to Google Docs but more specific to Scripts is Adobe Story. Adobe Story is a great collaboration tool when working with scripts. It has the sharing and permissions that Google Docs has but is geared completely towards video production documents. Unfortunately this isn’t free so it’s not on the top of our list and we often convert scripts into Google Docs which reminds me of another great Google Doc feature: MS Office Word documents and other documents can be easily converted into Google Docs and back again.

Now that I’ve moved to California these collaboration tools have been invaluable. Things slowed down due to me being busy with the new job, moving, and everything else, but we’re already talking on Skype and using Google Docs many times a week.

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