Thursday, December 10, 2009

Evaluating Methods of Online Team Communication

Our team is evaluating a few different options for sharing info across the team. Here are the ones we've used so far:

Jabber

I know that at one point there was IRC setup, but for the longest time since I was here we were using a conference room on our shared work Jabber server. However a member of the team could never get Adium working with it such that that person could just open the room from their contacts. Jabber allowed sending of attachments, but sometimes people had trouble with that also. The advantage (to me) of Jabber was that you could not delete or change what you wrote and could not delete or change what anyone else wrote, although you could clear your Chat Transcripts in Adium of course (but you can't clear what you wrote on everyone else's transcripts). In addition, there is the possibility of people seeing logs of messages sent in the Jabber server I suppose (although maybe encrypting messages helps avoid that?).

Twitter

We used this with an API to post interesting things happening in our environment (really just deployments) to a private account. I know that we could use it for team communication also, but basically we just didn't take it any further. I think the main thing is that Twitter is really geared toward one person announcing what they done more than conversing with others, even though the latter happens a lot between people that are Twitteratics/Twitter-addicts, but there are few of those here afaik.

Google Wave (wave.google.com)

Recently we had a team member that had been using Google Wave, so we got invites and started using it. I along with a few others were using Waveboard 0.11 as the OS X client so that there could be a notification number shown in the OS X dock. However, I had to restart it periodically because it doesn't catch changes like when someone's profile picture changed. It is certainly really neat to have threads within each topic of conversation and to see what others are typing as they type. Also the various extensions, chatbots, etc. available in Google Wave are neat (although unless you are the topic starter you can't seem to invite a chatbot, and some of the things on that list didn't work for me even if I added them as the topic starter, I think). However, with the whole team working on a thread and having fun, it quickly got out of control. In the current (beta) version, you can edit each others' blips (messages) which could be a big problem. And it is really hectic to try to keep track of people writing things in different places in the same wave. I also rewrite what I'm thinking sometimes, and I don't like people seeing that. So I don't think that editing blipped blips, threading within topics, or seeing what someone is typing should be enabled by default- but unfortunately that would make it not much different than other IM-like tools. As a free-form idea tool it is great. But to track quickly what is going on in a team, it is probably currently the wrong tool to use, which is a shame, because obviously its creation involved a lot of "out-of-the-box" creative thinking. Unfortunately, Google Wave seems to create more problems than it solves. But maybe that will change as it evolves.

Present.ly (presentlyapp.com)

Present.ly went down briefly a few times during the evaluation (it didn't let us post). However, having a private web-based conversation with feed is pretty good. A con like Twitter and Google Wave is that you can delete your own posts (which deletes them from everyone else's), and you can delete others' posts from your feed, even though everyone else still has them. There are two clients for OS X at time of writing which are an Adobe AIR app available via the presentlyapp.com site and you can use Fluid to create an app for it (which is what I did because a co-worker that had been using the Adobe AIR app said it wasn't as functional). You "follow" people like Twitter, but it feels different than Twitter and allows you to attach things, etc. (it's just more full-featured at the moment). It has email, SMS, and a few types of IM support. I tried to hook it up to my Google Talk account and then added Google Talk to Adium, but it didn't work. I don't really like the email functionality, because I like keeping email and IM-like communication separate. It automatically provides a RSS feed for your present.ly posts. If you install RssGrowler and change preferences to check every 5 seconds, and add your "private" feed, being sure to set your username and password, then it is a great way to get notifications when someone says something. So far, present.ly is the winner in my opinion, although I'm trying to keep an open mind to Google Wave, because I know that Google will fix it up or come out with something even cooler within a year or two, most likely.

Yammer

Yammer not only provides Facebook-like microblogging for business, but lets you set up groups which have their own microblog pages, allows each employee to have a profile page, has org chart, group directory, what appears to be a big tag cloud page, a file directory, image directory, and admin area where if you are a paying customer of Yammer you can setup policies, etc.

We've not evaluated this one yet, but it looks interesting.

Update: While we have been using Present.ly for some time now, team members have not stopped using Jabber. One thing recently discussed related to this is that we don't feel safe posting some internal communication related to security to an externally-hosted, free service. I think that team communication may have increased since using both Present.ly (which attracts more status updates, although there is no reason Jabber couldn't be used for status updates) and Jabber (which allows faster communication, fits more communication in the screen, and is much easier to manage/view/copy and paste chatlogs). However, the tradeoff for increased communication is that there isn't a single source of record for that communication (not that there was before- after all we use email, etc. also).

Update #2: If you were using Fluid and it broke, they changed the domain from presentlyapp.com to presently.com. Recreate the Fluid app to point at the correct domain and it'll be working again.

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