Stuff That Works

So, a bunch of the boys ‘n girls gathered round the screen to do some rootin’ tootin’ grant writin’, and since we are all software developers and we are pledged to eat our own dog food, we want cool collaborative tools. So, we’ve got Backpack,(sorry, I mean Base Camp) we’ve got VoIP, we’ve got Sightspeed video, we’ve got…. whatever.

So what did we end up with, finally at the end of the day?

  • Microsoft Word 2003 with the tracking function.
  • eMail
  • AOL Instant Messanger.

It worked. A little rough around the edges, the, um, workflow, but in the end the group has applied for $150,000 in round figures via two grants, and begun to develop a “swipe file” of paragraphs that can be inserted into subsequent grant requests.

Some observations:

  • The Base Camp Writeboard is OK, as far as it goes, and indeed it is designed for collaborative writing, but is so rudimentary that it is better to just stay in Word. Writeboard is useful if you want to work on language and narrative, but not helpful for formatting, and we needed to include a budget spreadsheet. So a couple of times we ended up exporting the Writeboard copy to text (another mistake….we should have exported to html, of course), and then spent hours reformatting in Word. Once in Word, however, it was possible to upload versions to the Backback board, and leave comments. Note that if you want to do html tables in a Writeboard, you can…but you have to do it in code. They also have non-standard ways of putting in bullet and numberd lists, and headers.
  • Change Tracking in Word works pretty well. You can leave comments. Each person who edits gets their edits shown in a different colour.
  • In the end, after passing the document around like a hot potato, one person kept the master copy, and we used instant messenger to comment back and forth, and sent versions and snippets via eMail.

We might also have tried Google docs and spreadsheets. Another time maybe.

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