Fred Bayles, a Professor at Boston University School of Journalism, is a hard man to talk to. Not because he’s unfriendly or isn’t interested in talking, but he’s got other priorities. During the semester, he’s generally got a desk phone attached to one ear, a cell phone on the other and his fingers on a keyboard. At the other end of the phones and on his email are his students who are on Beacon Hill (Boston) staffing BU’s Statehouse Program. They’re reporters covering government and politics for a dozen local newspapers, websites, and radio stations around the state. And Bayles is their editor/teacher/mentor.
So here’s the scene before Buzzword: BU students are at the Statehouse in Boston. They’re on laptops with wireless Internet access and standard desktop office software. Bayles is in his office juggling phones and keyboards and emails. Controlled chaos: with standard software, the reporters are emailing their stories to Bayles and their co-reporters, calling on the phones to alert their partners, checking email, detaching and attaching new versions, editing, and trying to keep track of it all.
Enter Buzzword: At the beginning of this semester I introduced Bayles and his students to Acrobat.com. We spent a morning playing with Buzzword, ConnectNow, and Share. So, there’s still chaos, and they’re still on the phones, but Buzzword’s streamlined the collaboration. Now email is just a notification. No more attachments. No more hunting for the latest version. All the comments in one place, with version history documenting the changes.
Yesterday I went back to the class for a debrief. Mind you, we’ve not solved all their problems and I got some great feedback on improvements we need to make – for example, they need be able to strip comments from a document without deleting them one-by-one, or even better, export a “clean” document to MS Word for submission to their clients. They also want direct chat in the sharing bar, and a better document compare feature that tracks changes by writer. And the class had some very cool ideas for integrating Buzzword with some of the social media on the Web.
Nevertheless, the experiment was successful enough that Bayles plans to expand the use of Buzzword next year.