We’d like to use this space to describe some of the usage scenarios that we think would be addressed and improved by a rich, on-line authoring and collaboration environment.
Our expectation is that the task commonly known as “word-processing”, though constantly maturing, is in the early stages of a dramatic evolution. Migrating the authoring environment on-line isn’t just about moving the same feature set to a different environment; more importantly, it’s about exploiting the capabilities of the new platform to better suit what users are trying accomplish.
Consider this scenario that was sent to us recently by Douglas Swehla:
I work for a university research group with about 15 people. Other groups in our department have anywhere from 5 to 20 people. Each group is responsible for obtaining its own funding by writing grant applications. The applications are frequently more than 100 pages long. Our group typically submits 4-6 applications per year. Four to six people will work on each one.
Normally, the professor in charge of the group writes an introduction, outline, and summary. One or more grad students provide text, tables and figures relevant to their research, and the pieces are put together by someone (me) assigned the role of “document architect.” The process has been successful in terms of generating good content and meeting deadlines, but is a bit cumbersome in the review stage, for all the usual reasons.
Academic journal submissions are a simpler but more frequent case of back-and-forth editing. Usually it’s just the student and professor, but a more enterprising student might ask several people to review, and there we go again.
There is huge inefficiency in marshaling document files among many reviewers. Most of us know the process all too well: the original file gets copied and distributed to a list of collaborators; after which, each copy of the document takes on a life of its own, accruing comments independently.
The author must then attempt to consolidate and reconcile all the disparate versions. This alone is a challenge, but if the participants have different versions of the software, or receive the cloned document file on a borrowed computer, or a computer that doesn’t have the required word-processing software, the hurdles to productivity get even higher.
With Buzzword, we’re aiming to simplify this kind of collaborative authoring and reviewing process. For one thing, like any on-line authoring environment there only needs to be one copy of the document that collaborators review. Beyond that, Buzzword will offer a simple yet elegant user interface for adding comments and viewing revisions, all of which will dramatically improve collaborative authoring.
This will be a work in process: Buzzword’s first release will address some of the requirements implied by this scenario, and we’ll continue to refine our offering as quickly as we can. But the evolution of Buzzword will be driven by the vision of this kind of collaborative authoring.
We’re interested in collecting more scenarios like the one mentioned above. Please feel free to comment here, or send us your user story to (info at virtub dot com).