Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Zoho Writer is a beta app that works as a collaboration tool... In the simplest sense, it is a souped-up type of Microsoft Word that allows you to create docs and then allow other people acccess to it through the site, where they can make edits as necessary. The idea is that this type of tool eliminates the whole endless emailing of attachments back and forth. Users, coworkers, what have you, simply visit this site, log in, and work on the shared docs.

It's a great idea. But there are a lot of great ideas out there: Communism and those jars that contain both peanut butter and jelly spring to mind. Great in theory. But reality has a mind of its own. And things that are great ideas are often deeply flawed when put into practice (the former) or just straight-out disgusting (the latter).

See, I have some experience with this type of tool as my esteemed employer tried to implement something like this about three years ago. Through the company intranet we were all given access to "project spaces" where documents could be posted and then worked on collaboratively. No more attachments! they crowed. And this is the main aspect Zoho plays up, too. It's a great theory and I was something of a believer and I used our project space like a wild woman. Well, as wild as a woman can be when she's posting documents in a corporate setting. It's just not that wild-and-crazy of a scenario. But then I, like I suspect many others that walk the halls of this Death Star--oh! I mean Mother Ship! Mother Ship!--sort of... fell away from it. And the docs grew out of date. And the emails with attachments started to fly once again, the way weeds would poke up through the concrete in the post-apocalypse. Somehow like that.

So I am skeptical as to the usefulness and ultimate usability of this tool. About a year ago I was involved in an incredibly interesting research project for my job. We studied trends that would influence the development of legal research software applications. Really, I'm not kidding--it was incredibly interesting. And the main thing I remember from this project was that you can develop the coolest product in the world and if it's not some combination of cheap, easy, and adaptable it won't sell. What am I getting at? The fact is, this type of collaboration tool is not (yet) as intuitive and "easy" as the old way of sending email attachments. The steps aren't standardized enough (so it's not adaptable, i.e. flexible, pliable) and, let's face it, sending email attachments seems to work pretty well. So the sense I get is that people in development really want us to dig this type of tool, and they keep building more of them, and they keep trying to sell us on it's strong points, but the fact is, we just don't need this tool yet and so it won't be used. So stop trying to cram it down my throat.

Man, the similarities to Communism just keep getting stronger and stronger. I'm kidding. There are no similarities.


fresca said...

No, no, it's far more like pj & jelly in the same jar! (That DOES seem such a great idea...)

I love reading you--even though I barely know the technology you're describing, I enjoy how you write about it.
Happy Birthday--I'm glad you were born!

caramama said...

Did I miss your birthday? Happy Birthday!

As for this program... I guess I just don't have a problem with email attachments. Why do people have such issues with it? The only thing I can think of is for versioning issues. If one person does not maintain a master copy and implement all the edits correctly, you can lose some as it is overwritten or not combined correctly. But there are plenty of versioning tools that are out there already.

I agree completely that tools like this for "shared workspaces" or whatever they are calling it these days just aren't are that intuitive and not easier than sending attachments. Nice write up!

Arvind Natarajan said...

Rudy : Good post explaining your view point.

Zoho not just offers Zoho Writer. There are other apps like Zoho Wiki and Zoho Projects, which both allow you to have attachments. Being on the web avoids the (older) two-step process of downloading the attachment and opening it on a desktop based software. And when the desktop software happens to be Microsoft Office, it can cost quite a bit.

Email is part of the internet too and there are others who are comfortable with snail mail. I sincerely believe there will come a time when web apps like Zoho get as widely used as email, that you'll switch to the web fully :-)


Rudyinparis said...

Hi Arvind,

Thanks for stopping by! In case you swing back--I absolutely agree that the ease of purely web-based apps will inevitably (yes, I said inevitably!) win everyone over. We are currently migrating our library system to a web-based tool and the possibilities are amazing, not to mention the astounding ease of use. I don't think the "seamlessness" is there yet--so people, including myself, will keep using the attachment method... with further iterations, though, I think your tool is destined to be a winner. Cheers!

Arvind Natarajan said...

Rudy : Thanks for the reply!