I Need User-Friendly Collaborative Drafting Software

The faculty is getting set to produce, G*d help us, a mission statement. The chance that this will be a pointless waste of time is high, much higher than a Retreat. But the downside is also bounded; the odds that anyone will get mad about this seem low. Unfortunately, we can't simply decide not to do it, as the central administration hath sent out a decree unto all parts of the University, yea even unto the most autonomous of Schools, that There Shall Be Mission Statements. And so there shall be.

So I thought I should try to make lemonade from this lemon. Why not use this as an excuse to introduce the faculty to the wonders of collaborative drafting software?

The only collaborative drafting tools I have any experience using is the Wiki family (WikiWiki, Twiki), and I didn't find those easy enough to use to feel confident about asking the faculty to use them. The lack of a version history is also a big problem.

So, ideally the tool would

  • Allow for version histories and user comments on a document
  • scale, potentially, to the whole faculty (40+ users), although in practice you'd be darned lucky to get half that number
  • be very very user friendly — we have some technophobes
  • Very preferably be free and open source or, failing that, cheap and open source. But if the only choice were cheap and closed source, I might consider it.

I'd done a little hunting around, but nothing seems quite right.

Is the answer WebDAV? ('Web-based distributed authoring and versioning (WebDAV) is a standards-based protocol developed to address the need to collaborate and author documents over the Web.' says DMDirect). Sounds good, but doesn't seem to have matured into user-friendly apps I could foist on the colleagues. Which is a shame, as I just discovered I have a WebDAV capability pre-installed on my server. And supposedly there's some sort of WebDAV capability built into Windows XP, which is now the standard desktop in the law school — although the Microsoft documents I found on line didn't actually explain how to do anything….

WebRFM sounds possible, but is still an early beta. I can't use anything that crashes regularly or the faculty will abandon it. I particularly like the look of Zope's CMF application of Web DAV, but from what I can see it too isn't fully baked yet, and out-of-the-box might not yet be user friendly enough.


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2 Responses to I Need User-Friendly Collaborative Drafting Software

  1. You might want to try QuickTopic (http://www.quicktopic.com/) It has a document review component that looks very easy to use. I have used quicktopic to form a discussion board and it was simple.

    Also, to get the creative juices flowing on your mission statement, check out Dilbert’s Mission Statement Generator. http://www.dilbert.com/comics/dilbert/games/career/bin/ms.cgi It is hilarious.


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