Tool Time

27 Mar ’06

One of the tricky parts of organizing mesh was figuring out how to coordinate the work of 5 people, all of whom had ‘day jobs’, worked from multiple locations, sometimes even from mobile devices, and had different work routines. We’ve done all of the organizing ourselves, so there’s been no delegation to ‘staff’. But as it turns out, the process has been a lot easier to manage than we expected – mainly because we’ve had such great Web 2.0 tools to use to organize the workflow.

One of our favourite tools is Basecamp, which has been a revelation (and I’d say this even if Jason Fried weren’t speaking at mesh – we’ve been using Basecamp since we started). I use Basecamp in my practice, so I was already familiar with it, and the other guys knew its reputation as a web app, so diving in was an easy decision for us to make. But we’ve been very pleased to see how efficient it’s helped us to be. We use it mainly to manage checklists and meeting agendas and notes, and to store group files, and it handles collaborative workflow like a champ.

We’ve also been heavy users of Writely, mainly for collaborative drafting of documents, including our speaker’s list and conference agenda. We get together once a week to meet in person, and we even use Writely in those meetings – with all of us working over a document on our laptops, there’s no need for pen and paper, and several people can be making changes to the document at the same time.

When we were scouting locations for mesh, it wasn’t possible for all of us to visit every potential location, so the scout took photos and posted them on Flickr for the rest of the group to check out. All in all, it was a great way to get everyone onside the location. And of course we’ve taken some pics of ourselves for posterity’s sake, and have dropped them into a Flickr Group that a friendly supporter set up (thanks, Boris!). By the way, we’re all much better looking, and much taller, than we appear in the photos.

We’ve also been intensive users of email – Mathew recently returned from his vacation to over 3,200 mesh-ages! But what’s been especially cool lately is that in our meetings, when some of us are wrapped up in a discussion, those who aren’t can quietly IM each other – and keep a separate channel going at the same time. Oh, and mobile chat as well – in our case, using Google Talk for the Blackberry. It sounds like mayhem, but it actually works pretty well. And of course, everything is logged for later reference.

(What would be great is a web-based messaging service that would display threaded messages, and that would allow group members to respond to messages with their usual email clients but still have the service archive and sort those messages – anyone know of any services with that kind of flexibility?)

For registration, we’ve chosen Mollyguard, a great service that’s affordable and easy to configure. And of course payment is handled by Paypal. When we need to transfer money within the group, we email it. All in all, registration, payment and money has been very easy to manage.

Update: For invoicing sponsors, we use 2ndSite, an online invoicing and web-based billing system that is very, very easy to use. Oh, and one of us is its co-founder. Cool.

Finally, one of the real pleasures of finding the right people to come join us at mesh is that we’ve had their blogs and podcasts to help us understand their interests and where in mesh they belonged. To help us track all of that info we’ve set up mesh tags so we can stay current with each other’s discoveries.

Not that long ago, it would have been much harder and more costly for 5 people to collaborate like this at a distance. Seeing how powerful these tools are at connecting us to each other has been an inspiration – something we hope we can pick up in the discussion at mesh. So please join us – there’ll be lots to discuss.

Update: Mathew posts today on conference format, and what we’re doing to try to make mesh a rewarding experience for all of us. And check out Stuart’s post on format, too. We’re trying very hard to make the format engaging.

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