Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Collaboration in the Age of the Internet

I have no idea if any of you follow me on Twitter or not, but if you do you might have seen the hashtag #sprr floating around in my Twitter stream for the past two weeks or so. And of course by now you're probably wondering what the devil the dang thing actually means.

The short version is that, after a discussion early last week, myself, Ren Cummins (@rencummins), Theresa Meyers (@theresa_meyers), Anabel Portilo (@nemone7), and Angyl (@syferlocke) decided to write a round robin story. A Steampunk round robin story, that eventually turned into a Steampunk Romance involving Air Pirates, an evil Empire, and a ridiculously vibrant world of arid landscapes, high mountains, derring-do, floating cities, and super mega powered airships. The "Air Pirate" is a woman, incidentally, with a dashing male Air Fleet captain sent by the Queen-Empress to catch her.

In deciding to write this story, we were presented with a unique problem. Theresa and Ren are located in Washington state, I live in Massachusetts, Angyl calls Kansas his home, and Anabel lives in Ireland. How to conquer this time and distance differential so all five of us can work on the story? We could've spent time emailing a Word doc back and forth, but there's a distinct difficulty with that method. This difficulty being that we'd need to figure out a hard-and-fast order for who writes when and the word count limit that each person would have before passing it along to the next person. An additional problem is that there'd be a certain amount of lag while the next person read what had come before and then figured out what they wanted to write.

However! I'd recently begun a project -- tentatively called "Purity Distilled" -- where I shared the file I was working on with Theresa, Anabel, and Ren via Google's Docs application. If you don't know anything about Google Docs,, it's a fantastic web-based program that mimics Open Office or Microsoft's program suite with a word processor, a presentation program, a spreadsheet program, etc. The Google Docs format allows you to create a document and instantly share it with anyone you select so each person can either Edit or only View the document in question. I'm a HUGE fan of Google Docs, and do a large amount of writing in their service particularly in regards to my freelance articles or anything that I want to access from multiple computers.

The end result of all this is that we're currently writing the round robin story in a Google Docs word processing file, which allows real-time collaboration on the same document across all the time zones we're in. The added benefit is that there's a Chat column active when multiple people are viewing the same document. So Anabel, Angyl, Ren, Theresa, and I can both write and discuss what we're writing all at the same time. The only real challenge now is figuring out a time when we can all sign in to the doc to work on the story. But when that happens, hooboy is the discussion and the writing fast and furious. It feels like we're all sitting around a table chatting while we work on this awesomely vibrant tale that we've all come up with.

Ain't collaboration in the age of the Internet fun?


Davin Malasarn said...

Matthew, that sounds so fun! I love collaboration and have always wanted to do something like that. The only similar project I did was when I wrote a short story with about 15 other people. Each person was in charge of a different aspect of the story, like character, setting, premise, etc. I had fun, but I also ran into a bunch of problems. It was very educational.

K. Marie Criddle said...

So frigging cool. I love living in the future! A group of 5 friend collaborated on a "twitter novel" last year that, although being a fabulous learning project, never came to public light. Still cool! We are in a beautiful brave new world.