Four tools for online collaboration.

Posted: May 16, 2009 in Code, Firefox, Internet, New Tech
Tags: , , , , , , ,

In the past seasons that I’ve been doing First Lego League, I’ve learned a lot. One of the things I learned the most about is collaboration. Because I like 1,500 miles or so away from my First Lego League team we’ve all learned a lot about collaboration, on and off the internet. I’m putting together a list of services and software that we relied heavily on during the past two years. Some of these wont surprise you, and others may.

1. Skype. Of all the times that I’ve complained and complained about Skype, which you will know about if you’ve read my Video and Voice calls over the internet page. Even though I have complained a lot about Skype, it’s insane amount of CPU usage, the headaches it’s given me and my team, and a whole lot of other things, we could not have pulled through the seasons without it. As I look back all of my ranting about how much CPU usage Skype was taking up was really uncalled for. Skype was transferring and receiving video of often more than eight people, along with continuous sound from at least that many people. That’s a huge strain, and besides, my computer handled it, but my computer is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a supercomputer, not even top of the line anymore. My computer still works great, but there are limits to what it can do. I want to give you make sure you realize how important this program really is. Skype let me see what was happening over in Minnesota, 1500 miles away. I would be able to watch the robot, talk with my teammates, and because of that, and my next program I will mention here, I was able to be a lot more involved in not only the design aspect of the season, but also the programming part. Sure there might be an alternative program that we could have used, but I think nothing would have been better than Skype.

2. Mikogo. This is a newer program, we have been using it for only a year or two, but it’s been great that whole time. Thanks to Mikogo, with the help of Skype, I was able to watch what was happening on our board, program a change, send the new updated program into our robot, and do the whole process over again. Mikogo din’t only help me program, it also enabled me to help write the skit, and do a lot of other computer-related taks we accomplished over the seasons.

Skype and Mikogo have really been our workhorses for the past season or two, but we’ve also used other services to get messages, meeting plans, meeting schedules, skit scripts and programs across the web. Besides Skype and Mikgo we as a team use email a lot to communicate. We plan meetings, collaborate on files and sometimes even programs over email. We didn’t always use these programs and services for work though, a few times we just got on Skype to talk. Sometimes we even get on Skype more often than we officially meet to work on other programs, to share ideas, and to sometimes get a few extra hours of lego practice in. We use Skype and Mikogo even now in the off season to test out other programs that I will mention in the coming paragraphs so that we can possibly implement them in the coming year. So now here are a few services that we are planning on using a lot in the coming year.

1. Doodle. Doodle is an online service that makes scheduling events, such as lego meetings, as easy as voting. When I say voting I don’t mean voting as in the elections, I mean going to a link that the facilitator has sent you and voting on a time and even place that works for you. Here’s how it works. You go to, just so you know, you will have to have an account here to use this service. Once you’ve made it to the Doodle homepage, click on the Schedule Event button, which I have conveniently inserted into this post, and fill out the information. You can choose a title for your event, add a description of up to 512 characters, select the dates that work best for you, input times that would work best for you, then finish up the poll. Now all you have to do is email out the link to everyone that you want to attend the event.

2. Etherpad. Etherpad is another online service that makes collaborating on text documents as easy as writing them. Head on over to the home page so that you can watch a demo video of how it works. Etherpad is a free service, you don’t even need an account to use it.
Here’s how it works. Once you go to the Etherpad website click on the Create New Pad button. This will create a new “pad”. Once your new pad loads, copy and paste the meeting link into an IM client, email or Skype chat so that other people can join the meeting. Etherpad doesn’t provide any means of communication with other meeting participants other than a chat box, so I recommend using this service along side Skype. Once you log on to your meeting, or your “pad”, you will be assigned a color, and a generic name. First change your name, so that others will recognize you, and if you want you can also change your color to a different one. Your color does matter. Once other people start joining you will see that they all have different colors. If you start to type in the text window, you will see that your text will be highlighted in your assigned color, for example, green or red. The same thing happens with all of the other participants, all in a different color. This way, you will be able to see what everyone is writing. This also makes it easier to keep track of what is changing in your document as you continue to work on it. We will be using this service to help us collaborate better as we write our skit.

Now you may have been expecting a few more suggestions, but if you think about it, this is really all you need. A program so that you can see and hear everything. Another program to share your desktop, a service to schedule meetings and a great service to collaborate on writing lists or, in our case, a skit.


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