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Thing 13: Tools for collaboration

This post is part of 23 Things for Professional Development.

Day 83: Fifty Fingers - Hands Together

Thing 13 is all about online collaboration and file-sharing tools. I have varying experience of all three tools suggested:

Google Docs

I do love Google docs. I use it extensively for storing documents I want to be able to update from anywhere (e.g. my personal budget spreadsheet), and for previewing links sent to me. I do find I have to clear it out regularly, as if you’ve ever opened a link to someone else’s shared doc it pretty much stays there forever, and most docs of this type are stuff I’d only wanted to look at once! Other small niggles – the interface can be a bit clunky, especially when copy and pasting in from another application; and I don’t find it easy or intuitive to organise and sort my docs. Those are small complaints for a useful, free service though!

I’ve used Google Docs quite a lot for the various professional body committees I’ve been on – it’s a really useful way to make sure that everyone has access to the same documents, without needing to send multiple attachments around! The only problem I’ve ever had with using Google Docs in this way is that some workplaces do block it, so this can cause problems if not everyone on the committee can access it.

I’ve never used Google Docs for actual work purposes, for the simple reason that I’ve never needed to – most workplaces have shared drives etc that work just as well for sharing documents across teams, and both law firms I’ve worked for had in-house document management systems that everything has to live inside. Additionally, working for a law firm means that I’d probably get into quite a lot of trouble with our risk management teams if I uploaded anything relating to the firm to a third-party, not particularly secure service like Google Docs! Actually, that goes for all three tools on this list – I use them all for some professional development stuff, but could never use any of them for my actual work – at least as long as I stay in law firms!

Wikis

I’m a bit of a fan of wikis for professional development stuff – I used a wiki to organise all my notes and jottings for my library school assignments and dissertation, and I’m using a wiki to record my progress towards Chartership. I was inspired to do this by @jaffne, who wrote an article for Impact (the CILIP Career Development Group journal) a few years ago about how she’d used a wiki for her chartership. They’re all set to private though – only I have editing privileges, and for my chartership wiki only my mentor can view and comment on pages – so I’m probably not using them in the way wikis were designed to work! I do find them very useful for this kind of work though – it means I can view and update my notes from anywhere, and its less unwieldy than using one large document or lots of smaller ones.

In terms of actual, proper, collaborative wikis – I’ve used a couple (notably the library routes wiki, which I was involved in setting up and help to administer), but I’ve never found them to quite live up to their promise in terms of collaborative work. We have a wiki for the SLA Europe web committee (which I co-chair), that was intended to record simple instructions such as our website editing manual and style guide, as well as allowing committee members to share ideas and advice, but in practice I’ve found that people seem to forget it’s there so it’s really not as useful as it could be. The same pattern has repeated itself on every collaborative wiki I’ve worked on – an initial burst of activity, which quickly peters out as people forget about the wiki and go back to emailing each other. Not a problem with the tool itself – a wiki is a very useful way to gather and record ideas etc – just a reminder of how difficult it is to change people’s behaviour.

Dropbox

I’m fairly new to Dropbox – I had already set up an account before this Thing, but only used it to share and back up a couple of files, before promptly forgetting about it. I’ve been inspired by CPD23 to revisit Dropbox and see what I can do with it – and oh my, is it ever useful! Not sure why I hadn’t really clocked this before, but as I do some Chartership stuff and some committee work from home and some from work, I’m forever emailing myself documents and having to double-check where the most recent version is. Dropbox has instantly put an end to that! I can’t actually install it on my work PC, which is a bit of a shame, but I can download files, edit them locally, then re-upload and have them sync with my home PC. No more will I accidentally work on an old version of a document, or realise that a vital document on the other PC when I need it. Marvellous! Incidentally, if anyone reading this hasn’t set up a Dropbox account yet, let me know – if I send you an invite link, when you sign up we both get an extra 250mb free šŸ™‚

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