Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Key Ingredient in a Collaborative Writer

This new post from the people at Zoho has me thinking that they are, more than ever, on to what we might need in a collaborative document editor.

A couple of days ago, George Siemens posted about Coventi Pages and it's unique way of showing edits and comments as a sidebar, which makes for great editing and collaboration. What I like about Zoho's product, first off is the prettiness of Zoho and the whole suite of apps, and now they just announced that their will be a chat feature added to their Zoho Writer. This is a good thing for anyone who has worked with either Zoho or Google Documents.

I could never figure out why Google Spreadsheets had a chat feature, but Docs did not. In my opinion, the chat feature should be a standard on any collaborative editing package out there.

This post also brought up another problem for me when I looked at it in terms of what is available in this area of Web 2.0. As more of my staff are beginning to see the possibilities of lesson design that utilizes Web 2.0, they are not ready to deal with the onslaught of choices. As a tech coordinator, I try to steer them in a direction that I think will minimize confusion, frustration or data loss. That decision often has a lot to do with what is recognizable to the user.

Branding is important. As someone who is actively involved in finding better options for teachers to use to create lessons, integrate technology and design curriculum, this is something I run into all of the time. A brand carries a lot of weight with people, often at the expense of functionality and efficiency. However, where is the line between what the teacher feels comfortable with and what is the more efficient product? This is where apps like Coventi and Zoho might struggle. Schools, like all other businesses, have been the victims of so many fly-by-night technology companies that have sold them something cutting-edge, only to have that bite them in the proverbial arse shortly thereafter. A solid brand like Google, though completely functional and usable in the online writing application genre, will win out among casual users every time because it is a recognizable name that isn't going anywhere. With that comes an illusion of accountability to the user that is yet another feature that draws the user to their product.

So, while Zoho and Coventi's products show promise, and in my opinion contain better features than Google Docs, I will be hard pressed to sell the use of Coventi or Zoho to my staff. That's OK, because I think this is a win-win situation; if we are using these collaborative pieces, that makes me happy.

Photo from Morguefile.


Patrick Higgins said...

An addendum to this post:

Wes Fryer blogged about network security and threats to information safety at his blog (
today. Saying that desktop utilities like MS Office are used as vehicles to load malware or spying programs, he points to the use of online applications as a safer alternative:
"It seems to me that the clever and creative threats posed by these “targeted attacks” make the utility of using online collaboration tools like Coventi Pages, Google Documents and wiki environments like PBWiki and Wikispaces even greater. If targeted attacks (as Mikko describes them) typically use MS Office attachments to launch their attacks, using online collaborative tools instead of locally-saved files that can “deliver” malware payloads to computers on a local network seems like a safer approach. In addition to being safer, these online collaborative tools offer powerful functionality not available with traditional productivity files. Web 2.0 resources may therefore not only be more powerful to use, but also potentially safer from a network security standpoint."

Barbara said...

I have not looked at Zoho yet but both the post and your addendum raise some interesting posts.
I agree moving between applications is difficult for people who are not yet comfortable with technology. I try to create enough "sandbox time" with new apps during staff meeting and that helps.In the end however the greatest learning and increase in comfort has come from doing. So sometimes I teach the students with the teacher there learning too and as the students use the application the teachers become more comfortable.

I also wanted to mention 2 things

1. Since you were involved in Clay's discussion about the purpose of blogging I thought you might like to read Jeff's articles in Tech Learning about blogs as conversation.

2. I wanted to ask you to add your thoughts to my recent post about textbooks. I respect your thinking and I am interested in your perspective.

Brian Crosby said...

Patrick you asked about recording Skypecasts - here is the link to Wes Fryer's post about both Windows and Mac software for doing that: