mosphere or their expertise and abilities are not on par with your own. In
some competitive cultures, there can
be sabotage. In addition, many of the
sessions of simultaneous work that we
outline were for rough work, not for
the final draft (although Story 7 contained the collaborative reformatting
of a final presentation).
And, there can be technical difficulties, such as edit wars because with
direct editing, one does not see what
something was changed from. Also,
if two people are in exactly the same
point with one adding and one deleting, it can get very confusing. And, to
write simultaneously, one has to be on
a network, having to rely on server connectivity. In addition, if using a service
in the cloud, some may have concerns
Patterns of using simultaneous writing. When we examine the stories, it is
striking that there was not more diversity in the experiences, but rather
just a few different patterns of writing
together. The stories cluster into two
sets: Four patterns of simultaneous
work and two patterns of accompanying asynchronous hand-offs.
The first four stories and the account
of writing this article employ a simultaneous divide-and-conquer strategy.
At some points in the creation of the
document, all co-authors wrote at the
same time. Most often they wrote in
different sections of the document.
Stories 5 and 6 employ a main
scribe, with a second or third scribe involved either to immediately take over
when the primary scribe speaks or to
do ancillary additions or edits. We call
this the rotating scribe pattern.
Story 5 employs a branching pattern,
where when one person is not involved
in the immediate conversation, they
use the time productively to write more
for others to read later. In essence, the
one person is creating a new branch in
the minutes, while the others proceed.
This pattern is a variant of the divide-and-conquer.
The fourth pattern is exemplified in
Story 3, what we call the swarm. In this
pattern, everyone is in the document
writing their parts, reading other’s and
commenting or correcting them. No
one is assigned a section; they all are
responsible for the whole document.
This is also similar to the teaching sto-
eventually deleted. There were times
when simultaneous divide-and-con-
quer was appropriate; there were times
when one person had to be in charge
while she captured the organization
of the emerging article; and there were
times when serial hand-off for edit-
ing was appropriate. We realized that
we should have explicitly discussed
whether we would just edit, suggest, or
comment for changes.
The ability to write simultaneously in
a shared document is a powerful advancement in technology. However,
the literature has said little about the
social process that harnesses the technological advancement of simultaneous writing for real benefit to the users.
These stories attempt to shed light on
this social process.
In almost all of these stories, someone led the effort by making some sort
of structure: the tree in IDE, the outline in ShrEdit and Docs, the agenda
in meetings, the presentation draft in
Aspects and Centra. The one exception
was the writing of this article. We had
that discussion after we wrote our stories and read each other’s. The structure emerged.
Writing simultaneously offers sev-
When we examine
eral benefits, including productivity
gains, a deeper sense of satisfaction for
time well spent, and practical training
by imitation of a collaborator’s style.
On a tactical level, participants can
move quickly toward a quality docu-
ment because participants can see and
emulate what others are doing. As peo-
ple join in writing, they can view recent
work in order to make their contribu-
tions fit the overall vision. The ability to
work simultaneously on meeting min-
utes has benefits beyond the recording
and correcting the content. Everyone
was “on the same page.”
Of course, not all collaborations
may benefit from simultaneous work.
There are sensitivities when someone
changes your writing. There are sensi-
tivities when others can see your pro-
cess of writing (for example, if you are
slow or a bad speller). Some may find
it distracting to see the edits of oth-
ers while they are writing or editing.
Working simultaneously is not appro-
priate if you mistrust your colleagues,
either because it is a competitive at-
it is striking that
there is not more
but rather just
a few different
patterns of writing