** Note: I'll be roaming around with limited internet access until sometime Sunday. I will moderate comments when I can. **
Last spring, I wrote about my efforts to get a group of people to work on a collaborative writing project. I tried a wiki for the first attempt, with little success.
Later I tried Google docs, which had some advantages over the wiki, but it was not significantly more effective or efficient than the classic method of sending lots of documents and parts of documents as e-mail attachments. Most text was sent to me, the main organizer of the project, and I compiled everything.
The group seemed to glance occasionally at the collaborative document online, and that was convenient because it reduced the number of drafts that I had to e-mail to everyone. We never reached the point, however, at which most participants were using the online document for their major editing. One or two did some editing of the online document, but most preferred the classic method of sending me comments or attachments by e-mail.
My being the group-write hub was convenient in some ways because I was able to work on the overall document bit by bit and integrate the various parts. In the end, the final document reflected significant contributions from a large number of people, each with a different style/format of writing, but the text ended up being coherent.
I think it is interesting that the online document/collaborative writing method wasn't particularly useful (or, at least, was not well used) for this project, and I still don't really know why my colleagues weren't comfortable editing the online document. I'm not sure what it would take to make an effort this like work well: different people, different project, different organization, different organizer?
I don't know all the participants of this particular project well enough to have any insight into their personal relationship with writing. It's possible that the online collaborative writing didn't work in part because of the organizational structure of the group. Although each group was semi-autonomous and had control over the content of its contribution to the final document, the organization had a specific 'director' (me) who was responsible for making the document coherent.
Perhaps the explanation for the lack of interest in editing the online document is the simple fact that it was easiest for everyone to send things to me, knowing that I would put all the pieces together.
Someday I would like to work on a truly interactive collaborative document. Perhaps the project would need to be shorter and simpler than the one I most recently worked on, so that each time a contributor accessed the document, it wasn't a monstrous task to digest all the recent edits and start in with new ones. And perhaps the project would have to involve an organizational structure in which everyone had an approximately equal role and responsibility for the final product (and/or no alternative but to work on the online document).
6 months ago