When working on a project across a distance, some manner of collaboration tool might be handy. A collaboration tool can help us stay focused on the task at hand and yet have the room to maneuver and discover new things (Palmer, 2007). Two of the tools that might be useful for collaboration are Yammer and Co-op.
I currently work for two small presses as an editor. One of them, PDMI Publishing, LLC, is larger and much more active. For the most part, we make good use of Facebook as a means to cooperate and communicate. Our publishing group has a member’s only group page where we toss out some ideas and generally be goofy, and we use the private message function to communicate things some of the group might need but some might not.
Unfortunately, Facebook can get a little persnickety now and then. The rules change as often as Texas weather. One morning our business manager found she could no longer post messages to some of the group’s public pages. We still don’t know why. Even half a year later, she cannot post on some of our own pages. We suspect that a writer who received a rejection filed a complaint against her as an act of revenge.
Very recently, the upper management set up a Yammer (www.yammer.com) account for us as a more stable, less arbitrary, more secure way for us to take care of business. We still use Facebook for informal purposes, but official communications happen on Yammer.
Yammer is sort of a more official type of Facebook. There is a personal newsfeed, and there are pages and subgroups where people in various departments can go to have an asynchronous chat, post questions, and get answers in a message chain that operates much like Facebook (PC World, 2012).
It does have its quirks, but the learning curve was relatively shallow, and even the members who are not technically savvy learned the basic skills quickly. The structures help us stay focused on different aspects of the publishing process by compartmentalizing some things. For example, the artists’ discussions of protocols for good covers can be kept in a group just for artists. Editors can meanwhile have a detailed discussion about Oxford commas without cluttering up the newsfeed for the marketing folks. Within the boundaries of the program, there is enough freedom to move and explore different topics (Palmer, 2007).
One downside is the cost. There is a free version of Yammer reserved for education purposes, but the paid versions start at $3 per user per month. The program is much more stable and reliable with Facebook and less subject to strange, arbitrary changes in function and rules. Although it might be too much for a small group of a half-dozen students working on a short term project, this might be a useful program for managing a full class. The class as a whole can have a newsfeed for having major class discussions while subgroups could be used for small groups working on a project secure from the curious eyes of other students.
Yammer is much like Facebook, and since many students are familiar with that, learning the interface for Yammer will be relatively easy. That allows groups to focus on the project at hand. A structured environment often helps struggling students succeed for much the same reason (Barkley, Cross, & Major, 2005).