Planning ultimate online collaboration setup

I absolutely love the challenge of matching tricky tasks with awesome software. However there is a whole new level of complexity when solution includes catering it to other people. Who might not share my views on usability, features and might be as lazy as me but without that much passion for computers.

So here I have an awesome task I could use some advice on – how to plan, implement and get friends interested in online collaboration.

Feature challenge

A lot of collaboration solutions are aimed at work environment. Meaning for them to be used there is either boss that can order around or financial gain from streamlined collaboration.

So here I have more challenging situation – bunch of friends (plus friends of friends and so on) that could some organization for our common hobby (anime) but are completely unwilling to put effort in. We are lazy bunch.

So I need the collaboration solution that is capable of handling list of challenging features and be extremely tasty and easy to lure lazy people in.

Features needed:

  • off the charts powerful and flexible file organizing and sharing (I am talking about hundreds of gigabytes scale here);
  • planning features for:
    • distributing downloads;
    • offline meetings and file sharing;
  • content discussion and recommendations;
  • integration with relevant sites, such as AniDB.

What had moderately succeeded

  • HFS with my very own RSS template had proved itself very convenient for distributing files from one user to others. However it absolutely lacks social and sync capabilities;
  • IM – we are more or less all there, except that it often turns into duplicating and passing messages around;
  • mobile phones. Dial and shout if someone forgot something, you know.

What had failed miserably

  • DC++ hub – I had tried three times already and it had zero traction every time;
  • Oddmuse wiki – lasted longest but failed with people falling off and accumulating backlog of changes instead of incremental updates;
  • Dropbox – nowhere near in speeds and limits for media sharing;
  • Google Docs spreadsheet – hadn’t even made to anyone using it;
  • Skype – IMing is faster and herding over two people in same Skype conversation is impossible for some reason.

Structure choice

Since we have nodes of various connection types, speeds (and every other variable) it will have to have some kind of central contact point (server). Either hosted by one of peers (me) or third party hosting (limits amount of toys that can be used).

Since no kind of server (that I have access to at least) is capable to handle large amounts of media it will have to incorporate some form of P2P transfers.

So overall it must have two layers – people communication and file transfer. It is unlikely that these can be found in single solution and satisfy all features listed above at the same time.

Building blocks

  • VNC
    • pro solves connection issues;
    • con takes resource toll on local machines, complex (?) setup;
  • HTTP
    • pro easy to distribute files;
    • con no distributed transfers;
  • FTP
    • pro easy to distribute files;
    • con no distributed transfers, present but uncomfortable upload;
  • RSS
    • pro glue that can stick many things together;
  • CMS
    • pro flexible with some interesting solutions (WordPress+P2+wiki, hmm);
    • con may require too much commitment and still fail;
  • DC++
    • pro awesome for file transfer;
    • con unappealing (?) to users;
  • emule
    • pro interesting option for file transfer;
    • con not intended for small groups;
  • Torrent
    • pro handles most of incoming media anyway;
    • con useless (?) on small scale;
  • private cloud
    • pro no (?) mature solutions;
    • con questionable collaboration usage.

Plan process

  1. Google ultimate solutions too all problems (failed).
  2. Make a poll with technical and interest-gauging questions, IM to friends, intimidate into filling it.
  3. Make huge blog post, look smart enough to uphold reputation, dumb enough to attract meaningful advice.
  4. Go struggle with zigzagging thought process, wait for feedback.


Any thoughts? :)

Related Posts


  • jasray #

    Hmmm . . . Adobe Connect (free); Zoho can be relatively painless; EyeOS? (don't know); Groove--in short, good question--Mikogo, Glide, Yugma. I've tried these, but I find it difficult getting others to realize the potential in such online meetings.
  • fbartels #

    My choice is Alfresco. Ist is an Enterprise Content Management System that you can install on your own hardware (tomcat required) or you can host on Amazon EC3. You can acces your files over httpd (Portal), ftp, smbfs, cifs, sharepoint, imap... You can create groups that users can join and with the right permission of the user he can invite outside users. next pro would be the version control system of alfresco. In my opinion a very powerful and free (in the labs version) system.
  • Rarst #

    @jasray A lot of these I hadn't tried, brief skim at Wikipedia:
    • Adobe Connect
    • payware, not a fan of Adobe products;
    • Zoho
    • interesting, they are mentioned a lot as competitior to Google stuff, extensive list of apps;
    • EyeOS
    • interesting and hostable but need deeper look to determine how suitable it is for the task;
    • Groove
    • payware, too document-centric;
    • Mikogo
    • had a post on Mikogo, purely screen sharing, doesn't fit;
    • Glide
    • 3rd party hosted, six accounts may not be enough;
    • Yugma
    • conferencing again, too specialized (offtopic - bookmarked their plugin for Skype, may replace RemoteX that died).
    So from your list I see best candidates for building blocks are Zoho and eyeOS. Thanks for suggestions! :) On topic overall - slept on issue and currently best possible structure seems to be WordPress+P2+wiki front-end and DC++ for file transfer. P2 seems very tasty for social part, like private Twitter on WP steroids. And DC++ hub might be easy enough to integrate into site, it supports links for files. Need to check if it supports links for searches and such.
  • Rarst #

    @fbartels Very interesting one, bookmarked to check it out. Thanks!
  • jasray #

    Didn't drop.io just start a beta conferencing interface--simple as almond juice. I use Adobe Connect for free--in fact, Buzz, Photoshop, Present all provide simplistic services.
  • jasray #

    Alfresco--yes, but I already see looks of disbelief in users' eyes. DimDim? Maybe too simple. I'll wait for the results--quite interested.
  • Rarst #

    @jasray Will go over them, but overall I see your sggestions leaning towards conferencing. Based on previous experience (see list of failed things) I think it should be closer to wiki. I suspect wiki failed because there was little reason to visit except to make updates or look at others' updates. So I guess it must retain wiki part but add much more useful stuff. I am messing a looooot with WordPress lately so it would make sense to try and use it. Will post on specialized forum today asking for options and advice.
  • Jacob106106 #

    I've never personnaly used them... Looks interesting - http://www.clockingit.com/ - Chandler - timesheetxpress (Take the tour)
  • Rarst #

    @Jacob106106 Thanks, will go over those. But your set seems more into time management. Ouch, just how many flavors of collaboration stuff there is?.. :)
  • Jacob106106 #

    Are you trying to find 1 tool ? Or a mix of tools for best results ? You should take a look at this: (if you have'nt already) - List of collaborative software http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_collaborative_software You have a really good topic going on and I'm very interested to see the end results. Thx
  • Rarst #

    @Jacob106106 As in post. I highly doubt there is a tool that fits what needed exactly. So best case is two tools: filesharing back-end, and front-end that is nice to use and can easily integrate back-end into it.
  • Jacob106106 #

    An interesting collaboration software would have features similar to facebook... Just an ideal...
  • Rarst #

    @Jacob106106 I am thinking about giving BuddyPress a try on my test server. It is extension to WordPress (engine this very blog runs on if you are nto acquainted with it) for building community sites with user profiles and such in facebook/myspace/whatever style. Might fit, too early to say.