Thoughts on current means of mediated communication and collaboration

Part of the groundwork for Design-Boost.

IRC (or instant messaging)

While great for seamlessly going from asynchronous to synchronous communication, involvement requires to be there at the right time. Problematic for international projects. IRC logs tend to be of limited worth and are tiresome to read.

The relaxed realtime nature of IRC is desirable, but there should be mechanisms to encourage and simplify transferring information into other forms.


Free Software wouldn’t be the same without mailing lists. A lot of mistakes are possible, starting with the choice of an inadequate client. Proper threading and quotation can’t be enforced and put strain on people via either the pressure to get it right, or by suffering by the acts of those who don’t. The defaults of certain applications and the limitations of mobile devices contribute to the problems.


Forums seem to have a very low perceived barrier to entry. They allow some helpful structuring and selective peruse.

But the dependency on email notifications shows that a forum is only half the solution (at best). There are inefficient quoting practices and a tendency to add a lot of noise, including signatures.


Great for structuring textual content. Requiring markup for editing should and can be avoided. Editing conflicts are nasty. Wikis tend to be clumsy in handling images or other assets.

Etherpad and Google Docs show what could be done regarding collaborative editing in real-time, thereby avoiding editing conflicts, and how uncomplicated formatting can be.


The most straightforward implementation of collaborative editing in real-time I’m aware of. The combination of document area and chat can be very useful.

Lacks means to handle assets. Doesn’t help with tracking what has been changed and why. This makes me wish for commit messages. But it can be hard for a single person to edit and commit in a way that leads to clean and related change-sets, already. With several people in real-time, there will have to be means to select changes to commit.

Google Wave

An outlier and history, as far as the client implementation is concerned. Hierarchical replies shown within posts, thereby avoiding quotes, are a very interesting concept. Waves, as seen so far, tend to be hard to follow, if left as they happened and not edited intensively.

Google Docs

Perhaps the best thing it adds compared to Etherpad, are the notes at the side of the document.
The attempt to be a word processor leads to an amount of freedom that is only a distraction when taking notes or writing documentation. Automatic section numbering and an outline view would help to work with longer, structured documents.

Twitter and

Maybe I could write a less than 140 character message presented here without the context required to make any sense of it. Or just post a link.


About thorwil
I'm a designer from Germany. My main interests are visual and interaction design, free/open-source software and (electronic) music.

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