Build a collaborative online system for his college dorm floor.
December 15, 2010 10:19 AM   Subscribe

Help me help my nephew build a collaborative online system for his college dorm floor.

Iit would only be available to those on the local wifi network (so make it an intranet?), it would prevent multiple log-ons from the same computer, and it would include both a no-holds-barred group chat function plus, separately, a way for any user to share the document, video, and/or music s/he is currently working on (i.e. "help me with my project"). It doesn't have to be collaborative (i.e. mutual ability to edit), but one should be able to feed docs, vid, or music into the system so they're visible for others....and all can discuss via a focused chat.

So there'd be 1. a noisy open chat line going in one part of the window/console, plus 2. a project view in another place (different people would offer different projects, but a user could only view one at a time), plus 3. a private chat among people discussing that project. And above it all, 4. easily updated "news ticker" scrolling announcements from my nephew, the admin (e.g. "Beer's Cold, Everybody!").

I think it's ridiculous to build this when people could just walk down the hall. But I am a creature from the 20th century, so I just don't understand.

Is this hard to build? Is there anything pre-existing which does this all? Are there any "modules" that could be easily tied together by a to create what he wants? Would it make sense to build this as an Intranet thing?

This is a community college, and the kids are non-geeks, so a powerful groupware app would not be feasible. We need something easy and intuitive.....much more Apple-ish than BaseCamp-ish. Geared to artsy kids, not a corporate environment. It should do pretty much just what functions I listed and not much more.
posted by Quisp Lover to Computers & Internet (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Sorry, should have noted that it'd be all in real time. Don't need archives or anything like that. Which should help ensure the sort of sleekness I said he needed. the whole thing can be fairly flimsy and kludgey, no problem.
posted by Quisp Lover at 10:30 AM on December 15, 2010

Maybe play with WASTE?
posted by flabdablet at 10:32 AM on December 15, 2010

Is this hard to build? From scratch, yes, quite. Your specs are pretty loose but coding it would take a while and if you have to ask, you probably can't do it with out a lot of learning first.

Pre-existing, maybe but probably nothing quite right.

Modules is the way to go. Maybe something like Drupal would work?

Sorry to seem so negative.
posted by d4nj450n at 10:39 AM on December 15, 2010

Or they could just use Google Docs + Dropbox.
posted by nzero at 10:42 AM on December 15, 2010

WASTE and Drupal are both very interesting, thanks.

d4nj450n, if those don't work out, how much might from-scratch cost (extremely loosely, in orders of magnitude)?
posted by Quisp Lover at 10:44 AM on December 15, 2010

nzero, I said it could be loose and kludgey, but that's way TOO loose/kludgey! :)

Although....hmm....if the floor took out its own dropbox account and passed the password around to everyone, and the "console" (the term I'm using for whatever the interface is) could somehow know to link in to the right file, there'd be possibilities. All that would remain would be the chat components.
posted by Quisp Lover at 10:47 AM on December 15, 2010

Well you really need to explain what you mean when you say "a project view". I don't have any experience freelance coding but at a guess probably >$500 at least.
posted by d4nj450n at 10:55 AM on December 15, 2010

Google Wave could do a lot of this. Chat, collaboration, announcements, etc. I don't think there's a way to restrict the number of logins per computer, or limit the number of projects you could view at once, but for the rest of it, Wave might do the trick.
posted by specialagentwebb at 10:56 AM on December 15, 2010

IRC server. You can have different channels for different projects, an open chat one, and it facilitates private messaging and most clients do file transfers.
posted by mikeh at 10:57 AM on December 15, 2010

I say this with some experience:

Don't build anything specific. The entire "view only one project at a time, etc etc" thing is nice, but there's no reason this has to be one program/website and not just a couple off the shelf tools that they could use. I mean, a simple wiki would handle project tracking if it's just some guys doing fairly unstructured tasks.
posted by mikeh at 10:59 AM on December 15, 2010

Actually, Quisp Lover, what I was thinking of was simply creating a folder on a Dropbox account and sharing that with each person on the floor. Using that folder, they can all now freely share files and folders, videos, music, whatever. Then, for the project stuff (collaborative projects, group chat) you use Google Docs. Again, create a folder for the dorm floor and share it with the relevant parties. Each student will essentially only have one login, since you will have shared it with each of them exactly once. This is the system I use with my collaborators at school and it has worked marvelously for us. The fact that Google Talk also does video chat is a big bonus. Can't be working in the same room? No problem, just videoconference while you simultaneously edit the Google Doc and share image files over the Dropbox.
posted by nzero at 11:06 AM on December 15, 2010

The various elements of Basecamp seem like they would be an effortless fit.
- Places to store stuff (docs, web content, photos, links, and so on) both privately and collaboratively,
- Real time internal chat, grouped by project if you wish,
- Shared projects with selective access,
- Individual logins and passwords and a variety of permissions,
- etc.

You just pay by the month and it's affordable, so the monthly cost split between dorm floor residents would be negligible.

I use it for my architecture firm and basically do what you want to do with it, my collaborations being with clients, contractors, suppliers, employees, etc. It's super simple to use. It's biggest selling point: It does fair number of things simply and very well. And it doesn't try to do everything for everybody.
posted by nickjadlowe at 11:07 AM on December 15, 2010

Open Atrium sounds like it might work for some of these things.
posted by meta87 at 11:17 AM on December 15, 2010

Perhaps wuala is worth looking at.
posted by redyaky at 11:50 AM on December 15, 2010

This may be a little off topic, but are you sure their student housing allows local intranet within the greater university system? This was explicitly forbidden in my dorms. If the campus tech staff allows it at their college or if I'm misunderstanding and it's off campus, nevermind.
posted by slow graffiti at 12:09 PM on December 15, 2010

I vote WASTE or IRC. Spent plenty of time on both during college, and they accomplished most of those things.
posted by soma lkzx at 12:17 PM on December 15, 2010

My college does this on a much larger basis [and mostly for file sharing], but DC++ could work.
posted by QueenHawkeye at 2:32 PM on December 15, 2010

I came in to mention Drupal also (you might look at Organic Groups) but... while the building blocks available to Drupal are many and powerful, it takes a lot of planning and work in terms of architecture and interaction design to achieve Apple-ish. I don't remember who said it, but when you're building a site with Drupal you spent about 5% of your development time getting the site 95% built, and 95% of your development time on that last 5% of polish and fine-tuning.

and the kids are non-geeks

Is this something everyone on your nephew's dorm floor is clamoring for, or is it an idea your nephew had on his own for a cool service to provide for his classmates? It's been my experience over the years that it's really hard to get everyone in a group to actually use (and keep using) a tool like this, even when the intended users are geeks. Not a direct answer to the question you asked, I know... but it would be too bad for you and/or your nephew to invest a bunch of time & energy putting this together, then sit back and watch everybody log in once or twice and then never look at it again, which is probably what would happen if this is just your nephew's initiative.

BaseCamp actually seems like a pretty good off-the-shelf solution for this. It's not free, but there's a reason plenty of people pay for it.

I've played with OpenAtrium (which is Drupal-based) but I haven't used it in a real-world group setting, so I don't know how to compare/contrast it with BaseCamp, but... it's free, and the guys who built it over at Development Seed are doing a lot of amazing work to make Drupal easier to use and build things with.
posted by usonian at 2:49 PM on December 15, 2010

I'm a big fan of Wordpress + P2 for this kind of thing. He could restrict access on his server to a set of IP addresses that match those of the floor. I'm not immediately aware of a way to make sure you only have one logon per IP, but I'm sure it's possible.
posted by Magnakai at 3:03 PM on December 15, 2010

How about PartyChat for the chat features, and Dropbox for file sharing?
posted by James Scott-Brown at 3:40 AM on December 20, 2010

PartyChat can either be run on Google Appspot, it downloaded and run on your own server.
posted by James Scott-Brown at 3:43 AM on December 20, 2010

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