Oddly Shaped Pegs

An inquiry into the Nature and Causes of Stuff

Collaborative tools?

with 2 comments

Like most theorists I collaborate a lot with remote colleagues1. Recent technological developments like the telephone have made this much easier, but I am ready to move on to something even more advanced.

I have started to use this Internet thing. For example, I use cvs or subversion on most projects to track and synchronize files (see Suresh’s recent post for an explanation of why). I call people on Skype when the connection is good enough for video, and use a mix of email, IM and Wave2 to jot down notes in real time about the conversation.

One thing is missing in my collaborative online life, though, and that is a good white board. Ideally, I would like a live holographic image of my colleagues in my office, together with sound and a remotely controllable marker for my whiteboard. Until I write a paper with the doctor from Star Trek Voyager, I’m willing to settle for something less ambitious: an interactive white board on which several people can simultaneously draw, paste/drop in graphics, and write text and latex equations that get formatted in real time.

There are a few free web services and software packages out there that offer something along these lines:

  • Scriblink: this has a lot of what I want but a very clunky interface.
  • Imagination^3: better drawing interface, no latex/math support
  • Latex plugins for Gaim: adds simple latex support to most IM platforms. No drawing. Also, annoying to install on a Mac since it requires a bunch of other packages to be installed first.
  • Jarnal: haven’t tried it yet.

A question for readers, then: what other similar tools are out there? More generally, what software has improved your remote collaborations?

1 I mean physically remote. Some of them are also emotionally remote, but so far neither the telephone nor the Internet have helped them.

2 Although Google’s recent Buzz privacy fiasco made me reconsider using Wave.


Written by adamdsmith

February 14, 2010 at 9:49 pm

2 Responses

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  1. (Hi Adam!)

    I’ve never tried to use remote whiteboards. However, I did recently use Wave to store whiteboard snapshots (taken with my camera) while collaborating with someone in Darmstadt. The whiteboards were not remote: we were both in Darmstadt. But it seems like it could work to take pictures of whiteboards and send them across the Internet. It’s just not as spontaneous. I agree that this is a problem, but I don’t have a solution.

    Marco was complaining about how hard it was to get mathematicians to use revision control for papers recently. I guess he’s tired of merging diffs from collaborators’ TeX sources. I use SVN or git for my papers.


    February 16, 2010 at 2:12 pm

  2. For collaborative latex I use scribtex.com


    April 19, 2010 at 1:19 am

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