Shared editing is still hard – why?

Having coordinated the editing of a shared document with about 100 pages I still wonder why I have not come across a really good solutions that work in a real life context. We were 10 people working on the document which also contained about 100 references various tables and graphs, which originated in spreadsheets. Our solution using (different version) of Microsoft Word and Excel on different platforms (Win and Mac) was at best sup-optimal. Track changes works great if I write something and someone else corrects it – but with a larger number of people creating and reworking the document just seems unmanageable.

We tried google-docs before, which is nice for joint editing but lack essential functions and is to my experience unreliable. We lost most of the document we created at some point. The same happened to one of our students writing up his project…

The purists argue that Latex and SVN is the solution – however if you have ever worked with real people outside the geek world you will know that it is not 🙂 and it would question if there was any progress in text processing in the last 20 years at all.

Is it only me who does not see the solution? Here are the requirements:

  • Shared editing of a document of considerable size (100+ pages)
  • Functionality required for larger scientific documents such as styles, (cross)-reference, creation of tables, etc.
  • Comfort functions in editing, such as spelling and grammar checking, auto completion, tracking of changes
  • Works in a heterogeneous environment including Macs and Windows and across administrative domains (e.g. people can be behind different firewalls)
  • Automatically creating a backup of the document every few minutes
  • Integration of other media (e.g. images) and data sources (e.g. spreadsheet tables)

What is your solution? I think mine (email and copy and paste) is not really the optimal one….

In comparison to some years ago awareness, video and audio conferencing with skype works very well – but again for application sharing I have not seen a perfect solution that works in real live – any suggestions?

PS: our final and printed document missed 115 spaces (a known error from exchanging docx between Windows and Mac)

Technology Review with a Focus on User Interfaces

The February 2009 edition of technology review (German version) has its focus on new user interfaces and titles “Streicheln erwünscht” (translates to stroking/caressing/fondling welcome). It has a set of articles talking about new way of interacting multimodality, including tangible user interfaces and tactile communication. In the article “Feel me, touch me” by Gordon Bolduan on page 74 a photo of Dagmar’s prototype of tactile steering wheel is depicted. The full paper on the study will be published at Pervasive in May 2009 (so you have to be patient to get the details – or come and visit our lab 😉

In the blog entry of technology review  introducing the current issue there is a nice anecdote mentioned about a literature search on haptic/tactile remote communication (while I was still in Munich) – the final version of the seminar paper (now not X-rated anymore) is “Neue Formen der entfernten Kommunikation” by Martin Schrittenloher. He continued in his MSc Project on the topic and worked with Morten Fjeld  on sliders that give remote feedback, see [1].

Another topic closely related is to new forms of communication are exertion interfaces (we looked at the 2002/2003 work Florian ‘Floyd’ Mueller in the UIE lecture yesterday – even with the Nintendo Wii around the work is highly inspiring and impressive, see [2]). The communication example given in Breakout for Two is showing the potential of including the whole body in communication tasks. Watching the video  is really to recommend 🙂
[1] Jenaro, J., Shahrokni, A., Schrittenloher, and M., Fjeld, M. 2007. One-Dimensional Force Feedback Slider: Digital platform. In Proc. Workshop at the IEEE Virtual Reality 2007 Conference: Mixed Reality User Interfaces: Specification, Authoring, Adaptation (MRUI07), 47-51
[2] Mueller, F., Agamanolis, S., and Picard, R. 2003. Exertion interfaces: sports over a distance for social bonding and fun. InProceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, USA, April 05 – 10, 2003). CHI ’03. ACM, New York, NY, 561-568. DOI=