What do you do when email becomes too slow and clumsy?
July 24, 2007 6:12 AM   Subscribe

What do you do when email is just too clumsy and slow for communicating to colleagues, is there a better way?

I need a piece of software to manage a project. There are 4 members of a team all striving to complete a number of different projects from a number of different locations. At the moment they are all emailing each other. This can be quite time consuming. Is there any piece of software or something similar to a coporate intranet that a small business can use?

Basically, I am looking for something like a virtual message board whereby team-members can post up progress reports and ask questions to each other. Is there such a thing?
posted by jacobean to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you're comfortable editing a wiki, and think that it would serve your purposes, there are services like PBWiki, which let you create a free, ad-supported wiki.
posted by Zephyrial at 6:19 AM on July 24, 2007

I can recommend Basecamp for project management and keeping track of projects.

Has messages, comments. to do lists milestones etc so you don't have to email much at all.
posted by gomichild at 6:22 AM on July 24, 2007

I find wikis incredibly non-intuitive for a lot of us. It's too non-linear for discussion.

There are many message boards out there at just about every price point. Or, if you have Windows Server 2003, you have Windows SharePoint Services, which is very much a intranet/collaboration tool, and the stock discussion group web parts are rss-enabled if that will help your folks. I believe you can also set up email alerts for new content. The one way in which email always wins in these situations is that it goes "ding" when there's new content. It's really hard getting people away from that.

(I feel like a creepy SharePoint evangelist; this is the third time I've recommended it in a week. It has flaws, but it's free if you've already got 2k3 and is really a pretty neat tool.)
posted by Lyn Never at 6:30 AM on July 24, 2007

Get them taking to each other. Install Skype and open a conference room with all four coders.

I have done a lot of cooperative coding over long-distance using Skype. The feeling a presence it provides is wonderful. With good microphones, good speakers or earphones, and enough bandwidth, I often forgot my colleague wasn't actually in the room.

I also used VNC to share a desktop. With Skype and TightVNC, long distance pair coding was almost more comfortable than trying to crowd around the same monitor and fight for the keyboard.

I used to use a wiki to share technical documents. But that's because Google Docs didn't exists at the time. If I were to long-distance code today, I would use Google Docs to share the technical documents and progress reports.
posted by gmarceau at 6:31 AM on July 24, 2007

Any Wiki/Message Board/File Sharing/Blogging tool would work as long as you have a de facto process around how people should use the tool. Have the former without the later and you are replacing one awful thing for another.
posted by mmascolino at 6:36 AM on July 24, 2007

posted by thirteenkiller at 6:42 AM on July 24, 2007

I'd second Lyn Never's SharePoint recommendation, along with many free/open source messageboards -- Vanilla seems to be pretty decent, from the little I've used it.

Other than that, I know it's hard to get software developers to use the phone or phone conferencing, but do it. It's amazing how many issues can be flushed out when you force people to talk aloud, or even better, face to face. Also, encourage instant messaging for quick questions.
posted by mikeh at 6:44 AM on July 24, 2007

regarding Basecamp, they integrate with another of their products called Campfire which can is basically a persistent chat room that isn't reliant on anybody being actively logged in at the time.

That can be the communication and all the tasks can be allocated via the normal Basecamp infrastructure.
posted by cschneid at 6:54 AM on July 24, 2007

ActiveCollab? It's basically an open-source, self-hostable clone of most of the decent features in Basecamp, and you retain control of your data. And it's free.
posted by Happy Dave at 7:17 AM on July 24, 2007

My team just uses instant messenger.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:04 AM on July 24, 2007

I worked on a team with several remote employees, and we all communicated via IRC, and it worked really well. People could talk in the channel created for our team to everyone, and oftentimes got an answer from someone they weren't expecting, and they could also talk one-on-one or in subgroups. We used our own server for security. I thought it was better than IM because of encouraging the public conversations. Especially as I was one of the junior members of the team, because I could virtually "overhear" a bunch of conversations I would not have heard at all otherwise.

Not sure how well this would work among folks who aren't used to talking via keyboards.
posted by olecranon at 5:16 PM on July 24, 2007

I know of quite a few techy companies (including my own) which use IRC quite heavily. I think it's especially popular amongst Unixy types who run textmode IRC clients on servers with screen, or have logging bouncers which allow other clients to maintain a history of what's happened while they were away.

Of course that's less important if you're normally all around at about the same time, and you can set up bots to provide offline messaging if not.
posted by Freaky at 9:00 AM on July 25, 2007

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