As Technical Director of a software company, part of my job is to
devise and develop ideas for new Internet-based software products. Some ideas don’t align with our
focus and chosen direction, and hence aren’t considered for development.
I’d like to share some of these ideas with you over the next few weeks, in the hope that someone may
be able to foster them into something more.
The first idea is for a collaborative creation tool.
I’m a big fan of The Postal Service, a band
that is comprised of a couple of musicians from geographically separated bands. Their album was written
by each musician recording their tracks or ideas, posting the result to the other, who would then add
their contribution, and post the result back, and so on (hence the band name).
The Internet can accelerate this process - at the simplest level by offering the transfer of files over
email. But I believe there could be a better way - specific software that can explicitly support the
creative process. The success of this new software idea will rely on two assertions:
- That there is a huge amount of creativity waiting to happen over the web
- That people want to work/create together
Evidence suggests that both of these assertions are correct. The boom in weblogs has demonstrated
the previously caged creativity of people from around the world. But weblogging is still very much an
individual process. Where people can work together - such as technical group mailing lists, discussion
forums, wikis, and open source projects - there has also been much success.
So then, on to the software.
At a basic level, it is a Peer-to-Peer application that lets you configure who you will be working with
(it could also let you define a personal profile to say what you wanted to create, and find similar people).
You also configure the files/directories that you will be working on, and the application will handle the
transfer of files between the members of the working party. For large files (e.g. a GarageBand song), it
might even trickle the file synchronisation overnight. It might also automatically version files, so that
you can revert unwanted changes.
At the moment, this is just a simple software application that shares files between groups of users.
The clever part of the application comes in the form of ‘filters’ – small plug-ins that are aware of the
data-format of different types of creative media.
For example, you could have plug-ins for GarageBand, and for various ‘creative’ XML vocabularies e.g.
movie scripts, plays, novels or reference books.
These filters would provide the killer functionality for the application: being aware of the data formats
will allow functionality such as:
- Transfer changes quickly, by only transferring ‘changed’ parts of files (e.g. individual GarageBand
tracks, or chapters within a book)
- Even if multiple people are working on a file at the same time, changes could be automatically merged
if they don’t conflict – e.g. people working on different tracks within a GarageBand file, or maybe
even one person updating the mix settings, and one updating the MIDI notes. Or, two people working
on different characters’ lines within the same television script.
Wouldn’t it be great to be working excitedly on your song, and to have the little application give you a
“Ben_G has just created a new keyboard track, would you like to
add this new track?”
What do you think? Would you use this software if someone created it? Does anything already exist that
I don’t know about?
P.S. Although the idea was originally created around media files, there’s no reason that file filters
couldn’t be created for other subjects. For example, business users could have Powerpoint or OpenOffice
filters to help dispersed team members work collaboratively on presentations or customer proposals.