As scholars, we are always involved in one project or another. Whether it is a funded grant project, a writing project, development (as in web/game/interactive/software/etc), or even curriculum/teaching work, it often becomes quite a challenge to manage things (especially if many collaborators are involved).
In situations such as these, many of us turn to tools that can keep our projects well managed and under control—some tools are online, some desktop, some tools are open source, and some are proprietary. All are different, with strengths and weaknesses which will ultimately determine their value to your particular scholarly project. Among the vast cornucopia of collaboratively inclined options, I would like to suggest that people have a look at Open Atrium.
The brainchild of Development Seed, Open Atrium is essentially an intranet in a box. It allows for the creation of group/project spaces in which users can have conversations, preserve knowledge, track progress, and share files.
Out of the “box,” Open Atrium comes with the following features:
- Blog: posting, commenting, file attachment, and granular notification (your standard blog features)
- Documents: Collaborative text document editor that allows you to track changes, compare revisions, and attach files.
- To-do/Task Tracking: Assign tasks to group members. Tasks can be managed (either as recipient or originator), prioritized, categorized, and tracked across the entire group.
- Shoutbox: think internally facing twitter (with the added benefit of being able to set which groups—or individuals—at which you are “shouting”)
- Calendar: your standard online calendar – add and customize events (single instances or across multiple days). You can also slurp in feeds from other calendars (iCal, Google Calendar, etc.)
- Group Dashboard: handy dandy snapshot of the group’s activity. Think of this as the group’s home base in Open Atrium.
On top of all of this, Open Atrium’s source code is open source (either a GPL v. 2 b or BSD license), and open source is definitely a good thing. As such, there is a fairly vibrant development community which is actively working on new core features as well as modules that would extend the software’s functionality. Development Seed also plans to implement a system of distributed feature servers which would allow developers to widely share features they’ve built, and for users (and administrators) to pull features from multiple sources and update them as needed. It is also worth noting that Open Atrium has quite an elegant and well designed user interface.
There are some caveats that should be mentioned. First, Open Atrium isn’t a hosted product, it needs to be installed on a server (check out the system requirements for more details on what you’ll need on your server to run Open Atrium). As such, if you don’t have access to a server (either directly or through a department/unit/college sysadmin), you are kinda out of luck. In addition, Open Atrium is based on Drupal (a very widely used open source content management system), which can be somewhat intimidating to the uninitiated. Drupal (and therefore Open Atrium) definitely doesn’t have the famous 5 minute install of WordPress. The other thing worth noting is that Open Atrium is still very much in beta. As such, you will probably find bugs here and there (but let’s be honest, this the tradeoff when it comes to using beta software). The good thing is that the development team is constantly releasing updates that fix bugs (and refine features). So, if you do run into a bug, chances are it’ll get fixed relatively soon.
Ultimately, if you are looking for a robust solution to work collaboratively on your academic project (and you meet the technical requirements), I would strongly suggest giving Open Atrium a shot.