Do we really need yet another collaboration tool? I certainly think so – sharing documents across the net is simply painful, time-consuming, and confusing. When we use email, we find ourselves trying to distribute changes and track down the latest copy of a document. When we use a central service – be it Google Docs, BaseCamp, or whatever – we find ourselves tethered to a cloud service — not really helpful if we’re sitting on an airplane or working in a remote area with poor connectivity (say during a crisis response).
I’ve started work on a better tool for sharing documents – based on work previously sponsored by the Air Force and the Army to develop “smarter” operations orders to streamline mission planning and coordination.
Smart Notebooks are shared documents that stay synchronized across the net. Each person has their own copy of a document – which “talk to each other” using a peer-to-peer protocol. Edit your copy, everyone else sees the change on their copy. Unlike email attachments, there’s no need to search for the most recent copy of document. Unlike a Google Doc, everyone has their own copy – allowing for private notes and working offline. All of this using standard web browsers, email, and RSS – no new software to install, no accounts to configure on services running in the cloud.
The motivation for the system comes from observations in venues as small as a church board of directors and as large as an Air Force operations center. When people come together they bring copies of documents – agendas, minutes, presentation slides, and receive more documents. They exchange information, discuss issues, make decisions – recording them as edits to their copies of the documents they carry away with them. “Smart Notebooks” will mimic this process across the Internet (and avoid a lot of manual copying in the process).
We draw models from several sources, including one of my favorite tools, HyperCard (I think of the project as “HyperCard, for groups, running in a browser”). I look to TiddlyWiki (a personal wiki implemented as a single local file, opened and edited in a browser) as a model for smart notebooks – coupled with a peer-to-peer, replicated messaging model inspired by USENET News’ NNTP protocol. The latest HTML5 standards and the newest generation of web browsers make the project possible, now.
Our goal is a system that can let people collaborate in peer-to-peer fashion with minimal reliance on a central system hosted by a company. Users will simply create a document in their browser (like editing a wiki page), then send copies via email – everyone stores their own copy locally (as a file or in their browser’s HTML5 Web Storage). Changes will be pushed across the net – notifications will show up as an RSS feed, opening one’s local copy will automatically pull in changes.
For more details, and to support the project, take a look at the project’s Kickstarter page, at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1947703258/smart-notebooks-keeping-on-the-same-page-across-th
We are particularly looking for a couple of larger sponsors – folks who are organizing a conference, an event, a mapping project, an emergency response exercise, or some other large collaborative effort – who are looking for a better coordination tool and can serve as test cases.
And I encourage you to Like, Tweet, +1, Slash, blog, and otherwise help us get the word out!