Basecamp (is easier for straightforward project management than a Wiki)
Many of us use wikis, or Google(-like) Docs/Sites, to collaborate with each other, and those are great in many cases. BUT, when what you want is to robustly manage the activities of group of people who collaborate both with each other and with other groups of people, in a secure and simple way, Basecamp is hard to beat. The hard part is the cost. This is not a free service: it will cost someone hundreds of dollars per year to use. The trick is to get your institution (or group leader) to decide this is worth it—and then use it.
Notes on features: 1) Basecamp allows for all communication to flow through it, even if responses are only through email—as long as the original message of a thread was started on the project site (thus, people won’t complain as much about having to go to a web site to send a message). 2) Files can be directly uploaded, and/or attached to messages. 3) Excellent calendaring/to-do/reminder systems are built-in and easily integrated with other apps. 4) Collaborative document editing is possible through “Writeboards,” but these are NOT as powerful as a Google Doc, so beware. 5) Permissions can be easily managed across projects, and administrator privileges can be distributed.
ADS Labs: A Glimpse of the “Future” of Research for Astrophysicists
“ADS” is the “Astrophysics Data System,” which since the early 1990s has been the go-to site for access to ALL the literature relevant to astrophysical research (a miracle in itself). In 2010, a new effort of ADS, called “ADS Labs” was begun, to experiment with new technologies as they relate to data-literature integration, semantic search, and more. I (and others involved with ADS Labs) will surely make some demo videos of the cool stuff one can do with ADS Labs as soon as we find the time…so more soon! For now, if you’re an astrophysicist, try out a search of your favorite subject, or author, and then try the “View As… “button near the top, or try using the facets on the left. Comment here on your thoughts, please…
Danny Calegari’s research blog is a prime example of what the “scholarly communication” future might hold. Here’s his description of it:
Danny Calegari’s research blog. I intend to document my research, describing the work in more speculative terms, and outlining more (perhaps tenuous) connections to other mathematics that I might write in a paper. I also intend to document my reaction to work by other people, and to interesting developments in geometry and in mathematics more generally. I further acknowledge that my approach to this blog might evolve over time.
An oldie but a goodie! This is the “National Virtual Observatory” use-case video that we made at the IIC in 2006. I upload the link here to show “what scientists want” when it comes to tools for retrieving and visualizing online data. WARNING: There’s a lot of Astronomy jargon in here, but if you can get past that, any scientist will be able to see the common desires of users, and shortcomings of existing technologies (yes, even now…)
Many thanks to all the interviewees, and to the students (Sara Watson and David Kosslyn) who produced the video for us.
When I first saw Boxee in 2010, and installed in on a Mac Mini connected to a projector in my den to manage home entertainment, it blew my mind that it was free software. I’ll explain what I think Boxee has to do with research in just a minute, but here’s what it is in a nutshell, as quoted from Question 8 of the Boxee FAQ:
“8. What can I watch on my Boxee? If it’s available on the Internet, then you can probably watch it on your Boxee - there are more than 40,000 TV show episodes and movies currently available through Boxee. Plus, you can play personal stuff from your network or hard-drive, and use the Boxee Browser to watch video from your favorite websites.”
Now imagine that I re-write that sentence, changing very few words, to read:
“8. What can I do with Resarchee? If it’s available on the Internet, then you can probably get it on your Researchee- there are more than 1,000,000,000 papers and data sets currently available through Researchee. Plus, you can use personal stuff from your network or hard-drive, and use the Researchee Browser to information from your favorite websites.”
I think that’s how research will look with the tools of the future. WorldWide Telescope and the Seamless Astronomy/Virtual Observatory efforts are getting us ever-closer to that future in Astronomy. Try Boxee and then you’ll see what Academia’s Future COULD look like.
Skype: A+ for voice; B for interface; C+ for multi-user screen share
It’s hardly necessary to explain the utility of Skype to anyone these days, but I list it here in order to qualify what it is/isn’t good for. Clearly, it’s fantastic (A+) for “free-ish” voice communication on a multitude of devices, and ~everyone knows that. Its interface LOOKS really nice, but even the tech-savviest of us get lost in it all the time (B). The worst part about the interface is that options and icons seem to move around from one version/OS to the next, so just be patient & keep looking for the button you want—it’s worth it. The present version of Skype offers group video calling, if at least one participant has a Skype Premium account. This sharing does work, but only when the Premium account is paid-up (hard to tell when it’s not), and when you can find all the right buttons/menus to make it work. I have found that participants’ patience often runs thin in trying to use this group app, so for now I have to give it a (barely-passing) “C+.” If you can do with just 1:many screen sharing, go try yuuguu.
-Too many places to be at once? -Too many collaborators around the country or the world? -Too many meetings to be at? -Too much carbon in the atmosphere? -Too many collaborators complaining they “couldn’t get screen sharing to work right last time they tried…”?
Screen-sharing and web-conferencing sound like great solutions to so many collaboration problems, but very often Skype, iChat, and WebEx are still “too complicated” or “not cross-platform enough” for “everyone.” I have found yuuguu to be a fantastic solution to that problem! Often, only 1 person needs to share his or her screen in a meeting. When that’s true, the best solution is for the “sharer” to have the lightweight (free) yuuguu application installed on his or her computer, and for (up to 30) “sharees” to just go to a URL generated by the yuuguu app to “see” the sharer’s screen.
Yuuguu has audio-conferencing built-in as well, but it’s real power is in generating a simple URL sharees visit in a browser with zero installation.
The embedded video here is just a teaser—the full 29 minutes (with intro + Q&A) is online at this FORA.tv site. This talk is a good summary of why and how astronomical research is facilitated by the “seamless” integration of research data, literature, and software. More information, including an online copy of the slides used here, is online at the Seamless Astronomy website.
It’s not true that one email program or browser is as good as the next, but which to use has really become a matter of personal preference less than functionality. Sure, one email program or browser can do some things better than another, but the subtle differences aren’t worth discussing here, for now. Sorry. [FYI, on any given day, I use a mixture of the Safari, Firefox & Chrome browsers, alongside Mac Mail and GMail on my Mac, and whatever email program comes with my phone—presently my loved/hated Blackberry.]