Kenny's Blog

16 Oct 2014

A Thought Beyond Real-Time Collaborative Systems

My friend and colleague introduced me to an interesting concept that I thought would be worth sharing: using a commit-based workflow (with a github type system as the backbone) as a very competitive alternative to real-time remote collaborative systems. Examples of such real-time systems include Google Drive and Etherpad.

The traditional thinking for collaboration says that it is difficult internet is because only one person can edit a file at once. So the solution to that is to allow multiple people to edit such files. Google docs is the example that pretty much anyone can follow. Real-time collaboration systems attempt to get around this problem by allowing multiple users to edit such files, all at once.

Recently however, we’ve tested a more interesting, commit-based workflow with a student committee I’m a part of (the UH Manoa Electrical Engineering Student Advisory Board). We actually use GitHub and Jekyll to do most of our document collaboration. Almost all of the content that we generate is textual data anyways, so why not take advantage of the social collaborative platform that has swept the development world?

Here is our basic workflow that we base on our Jekyll website:

  1. Create a branch with the document or project
  2. Add that document or project
  3. Collaborate and iterate
  4. Complete the document/project
  5. Submit a merge request to the webmaster

This actually works pretty well. After all, this is what git was meant to handle - textual data. GitHub’s web-based text editor works well enough to help ease the transition to those less familiar with command line based tools, and the email integration is a familiar feature for those used to working with email.

Check out our website and git repository here:

  • http://www-ee.eng.hawaii.edu/~eesab/
  • https://github.com/IEEE-UH-Manoa/eesab-website

The internet (and the world wide web) hasn’t been around for all that long - we’re still discovering what it takes to collaborate through the internet and what the best practices are. It’s not easy - humans, for the most part have been interacting in the same ways for most of recorded history. The whole internet “fad” will continue to develop. Who knows what will end up working best in the long run!