Collaborative tools like Google Docs are inescapable for writers, and often invaluable. But they also create problems you don’t have to contend with when you’re working alone in a simple word processor. Upwelling is a new project that aims to address some of those issues (finally), and make online collaboration more writer-focused. It’s developed by Ink & Switch, an independent research lab that says one of the problems they’re trying to solve is the “fishbowl effect” inherent in so much real-time collaboration:
Several writers we talked to wanted a tool that would allow them to work in private, with no other collaborators reading their work in progress. Intermediate drafts aren’t always suitable to share, even with collaborators, and feedback on those drafts can be unwelcome or even embarrassing. In addition, some writers are troubled by the idea that their senior co-workers and management may be monitoring them – an unintended negative side effect of real-time collaboration.
Real-time collaboration becomes even more intrusive when others not only watch what a writer is typing but even start editing or commenting on the writer’s work before it is complete. Some of our interviewees reported asking collaborators to close the document and not make edits or comments while they were working. Others reported copying and pasting the entire document into a new file, working there in private, and then pasting the edited text back into the original editor window when finished.
The last bit is what I usually end up doing—especially if I’m working on a lengthy draft with lots of changes—but there are clearly better ways to do things if the tools would allow it.
There’s a demo of Upwelling available, but Ink & Switch seems to be hoping it will spark the development of other tools, rather than evolve into a finished product itself. Tantalizingly, they say “an ideal implementation would offer a file format or exchange protocol that makes it possible for writers to use the writing software of their choice to create documents while offering support for Upwelling features.”