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no muss no fuss collaboration (guest post by Jenny Spadafora)

(Cross-posted from the Intuit Labs blog)

Last month, Krista and I launched a collaborative photo project. Every Monday and Thursday, we post a new diptych on our site. We don’t talk about what we are going photograph, other than in general terms (such as: how about “collected objects? for Monday?) and we don’t see what the other person shoots until it’s time to put the images together. So far, we think it’s working out well — and we’ve still never met.

Because I hear a lot of talk about supporting or enabling collaboration, I thought I’d write about our homegrown project, taking a look at the tools we’ve used to make it work. Anyone with an idea (and a willingness to get just a wee bit geeky with it) could do something like what we’ve done. Here’s how we did it:

I wrote about how the project I was currently involved in (365 Days) was almost over, and I was wondering what to do next. The spark for what would become Monday / Thursday happened in the comments to that post.

email It may be , but email is not dead. We followed up the blog comments with email. As the project took form, longer things that weren’t urgent went to email.

Most of our talking happens on iChat. Yeah, both have Macs with video chatting capability, but we’ve only used it once. We’re texty people.

Since my coconspirator is busy teaching classes and writing her dissertation, I volunteered to handle the back end stuff. I chose WordPress because it was familiar, extensible, and available as a one-click install from my web host. After spending some time looking at
readymade themes, I figured I’d be better off creating my own. (I also knew we’d be revamping this site, so what I’d learn would be put to immediate use at work.)

I opened a new pro account for the project: it’s great for image storage and sharing, and I knew we’d never, ever run into bandwidth issues this way. We each upload our half of the diptych and mark as private (so it stays out of public view until it’s finished), take turns grabbing the images, creating the diptych and uploading that image to flickr, and then cutting and pasting the auto-resized large version into a post on our site. I’m sure posting to our site could work automagically via flickr’s API — sites like Utata use flickr’s API — but I’m not a programmer and this is low volume enough the old-fashioned way really isn’t a pain.

Google Calendar
We use this to keep track of our themes, which we plot out about a month in advance. (Recently, I switched to iGoogle as my home page, so I can see at a glance what I’ve got to do , if I have any mail, and what’s up on the calendar. The theme of the page also gives me visual cues about time, as a cute little tiger progresses through her day.)

We use it to communicate and broadcast status messages in general, so it’s easier to get in touch with each other. If one of us is online but not on chat, we can DM each other. Or just know hey, she won’t be around for awhile because she’s stuck in meetings or off to the movies or whatever one of us just twittered we were up to.

It think it’s also worth noting what we didn’t need to pull this off: a complicated project management system, every detail nailed down way in advance, an inordinate amount of time, or a lot of money. We mostly took advantage of things we already had (my hosting account was already set up to handle multiple domains; I knew WordPress well, we were both used to flickr) to do something we loved (challenge ourselves creatively).


Jenny, I've seen you been very active on twitter these past few days. Good seeing your tweets. Anyways, I checked out www.crankyhermits.org and all I have to say is cool! I don't think I've ever heard of the word diptych before, but maybe I have and don't recall. Anyways, I enjoyed looking at the photos (as individual pics and as together/diptych). The Monday/Thursday project is definitely a creative one to come up with. Good job to both you Jenny and Krista!

I know you said you switched to the google calender, but have you tried using the U of M Calendar, it is extremely helpful. I recently just started using it this year, and it is much better than any planner that I have ever had.