2015-12 : Collaborative Editing Tools

Location:  The Working Centre 58 Queen Street South, Kitchener, ON (plan)
Date: 14 Dec 2015

Many organizations have internal data that they want to track. What tools do we use to store this data? Hateful Microsoft Access? MySQL? A web framework like Django? Complicated, brittle spreadsheets? Some cloud solution?How do we migrate data from insane database systems to better ones? How do we back them up? What are some best practices to dealing with internal databases? What kinds of databases have you dealt with, and what approaches have worked for you?

Meeting Notes

Many users want to use collaborative editing tools.

– What do you use?
– How do you deal with privacy concerns?
– How do you manage backups?
– What are the strengths and weaknesses of these systems?
– When are they best used?


– Wikis
– OneNote
– Etherpad
– WebEx
– Slack (Mattermost?)
– Sharepoint
– Google Hangouts
– Google docs


– GoToMeeting is better than WebEx
+ WebEx: poor audio
+ Pretty expensive? ($50/month)
+ Like Skype for 1-many

– There are different classes? Wikis are different from WebEx

– Wikis: collaborative editing
– GoToMeeting: realtime conferencing/interacting

– How can people work together on documents?

– LibreOffice tends to use Google Hangouts
+ Hangouts allow multiple video and sound
+ LibreOffice will also use IRC
+ This is for discussions
+ The kids use Google for everything

– Google docs allow you to edit simultaneously and chat
+ They have versioning
+ Marc backs up Google docs once a month into a zipfile
* You can choose the format
+ Should we all embrace the Google?
* LibreOffice is trying to work on OneCloud
* This could be released next spring
* The internal file structure is well known
+ Google Drive will let you mount a drive for Google Docs

– LibreOffice will let you edit files from Dropbox
+ This is different than having documents mirrored on local drives?
+ LibreOffice is a “do what you like” community
+ eg there is little interest for any Android devs to develop
an Android version, so they are contracting out the work.

– OwnCloud lets you edit LibreOffice collaboratively (without locking)
+ This is like Etherpad
+ But you cannot do spreadsheets

– Wikis are for structured text; Google docs are not (necessarily?)
+ You need guidelines to put documentation into reasonable shape
+ You need to handle your backups yourself
+ Images have to be handled differently
+ Back up each database separately
* Bob generated a 300MB –all-databases file
* He cannot restore the database properly
* Does that mean his file is toast?
– No, because he can chunk it apart
– But that is difficult

### What do we want for collaboration?

Why is it more helpful to have multiple people collaborating?

– Conference organizing: You can have 5-6 people on a conference call all looking at the same spreadsheet.
– How do you decide who is taking care of each part? You play nice.
– The editing is not completely random
– Do you need to have a meeting? Not necessarily
+ eg Agenda items
+ eg collaborative web page editing (Etherpad/UbuntuPad) with text chatting

What is a typical number people who can play nice?

– Maybe 10?
– Sometimes a few people dominate
– Some people can’t work like this; they have to take the document home
+ But some people think they want to take the document home and then
are won over to collaborative meetings
– Some people wreck everything and thus have to be limited to commenting

Grammar skills can be an issue. Can you assume good grammar?
– As they type content you can follow behind and edit
– It is most important for people to get their ideas out

This is similar to a writer’s group
– Comments should be constructive
– This works best face to face (because criticism is hard)

People don’t go into technical writing because you like creative writing
– Clarity is important in both, however
– Marc’s group was reticent to use Google Docs at first, but they were won over
– They found chat to be efficient while editing the document
– He found the visual (Skype) harder

Marc worked on mumble for voice chat
– It is low resource

Is face to face or messaging easier? It depends on the group.

How do you choose the right tool for the job?

It is easy to put bullet points into a document and then organize after

How do you come up with protocols for collaboration?

– Marc’s group was ad-hoc, but roles (leader, secretaries) tend to emerge
– There is trust involved

LibreOffice uses a lot of wikis

– Marc thinks they need WYSIWYG because the barrier to editing is too high
– You don’t get good content so people get frustrated and leave
– The people LibreOffice is trying to support people who do not necessarily have good editing skills
– Do people who learn office software learn good styles?
+ It does not matter. The ideas are important
– What is the bridge between thoughts and markup?
+ Wikipedia is working on WYSIWYG tools
* Is Wikimedia not receptive to this?
+ Drupal 8 has in-line editing now?

Should people have the right to NOT learn markup?
– If you force people to learn then you raise the barrier to entry
– That makes people elitist
– If the barrier to entry was lower then more people would end up learning the system
– Should people be forced to edit in Word?
+ Smart people have the ability to learn it

(Oh no! Markup!)

Marc doesn’t like Mediawiki because it is hard to are able to edit it in his group.
– People use all kinds of other tools
– What about eating our own dogfood?
+ The initial documentation was not published in ODT

– Should people be forced to edit in Word?
+ Smart people have the ability to learn it

### Slack???

– Everybody loves slack
– Slack is the email killer?
+ Easier to search (with group chat?)
+ It is like a searchable newsgroup? mailing list?
– Do you have to go to the site in order to get the content?
– Conversations are collected chronologically so it is easier to go through them than on email chains

Gmail labels deduplicates messages into pointers to folders

How do you avoid the standards problem? Having yet another place to look for stuff.

Finding stuff on Etherpad and Ubuntupad is difficult unless you bookmark items with useful labels

It is impossible to search across Etherpad documents

Redmine can also be used for collaborative work
– Less useful for collaborative work?
– Ticketing assigns work to people : less good for volunteering
– Closing abandoned tickets is difficult (and frustrating!)

Matching employers to job-seekers?
– Use a dating site?
– Donor management software?

progress.com : Database company
– Record-oriented (vs set-oriented)
– It is its own language
– eg Home Hardware point of sale

– Tim uses it
– It has a learning curve

– DigitalOcean
– CloudAtCost
– Linode

### Factors in collaboration

– Concurrent or not?
– Are you producing a document out of the tool or not?
– Does the document need to be exported or not?

### Sidetrack: community foundation for the arts

– They are in every city?
– This is different from CEI
– The community foundation was giving CEI some money too


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