Well, dear readers, I promised to get back to you and let you know if I ever made the switch from Google Gmail and Google Calendar to the MobileMe suite, and now that it’s been a year, I figure I better let you know what happened.

Well, this is pretty simple folks. MobileMe has done absolutely nothing to convince me to transition from the Google application suite. MobileMe kind of reminds me of plain vanilla ice cream. Not the kind made with natural vanilla but the kind that has a yellowish tint made from imitation vanilla. It seems that at some point, my expectations for web applications has gone well beyond the customer that Apple is aiming to please.

It seems that Google is on the other end of the spectrum. It constantly works to improve its applications and produces impressive web applications using the latest technologies. That’s not to say that Apple isn’t doing the same with MobileMe, but the functionality that Apple produces is so simplified that it seems like something that was introduced five years ago. I’m sure there is a market for that type of thing, but it’s not a market I fit in anymore.

So, why am I sticking with Google? Well, it’s all about innovation and it’s all about standards. As I said before, Google seems to constantly improve its mail, contacts, and calendar programs. It is a leader in providing communications solutions like Google Talk and Google Voice. It is constantly on the cutting edge.

What’s even more interesting is that Google supports industry standards so thoroughly. Want to use any modern email program to access your Gmail account? No problem, Google has you covered with POP and IMAP. Want to use a modern calendar application to access your Google Calendar? No problem, Google has you covered with CalDAV.

Needless to say, I am still in the Google camp, and I am deeply entrenched at this point. Gmail (including chat), Google Calendar, Google Voice, Google Docs, YouTube, etc. It is going to take something so magical and so game changing to claw me away from Google that only one company on the planet has the ability to pull it off.

Come on Apple, MobileMe is not nearly good enough. Impress me! Convince me that you have the creativity and ability to produce something so game changing yet so right that everyone will want to use your web applications. You’ve clearly done it with the iPhone. Now do it one the web.

In my professional and educational experiences, I have worked with teams that have been separated by great distances and time zones. In each case, the teams used tools to facilitate communication and collaboration among the team members. Following are descriptions of the tools used by each team.

Large US Bank/UCC Vender Interface Project

When a large US bank and its UCC vender collaborated to create an interface between the bank’s origination and servicing system and the vender’s web-based system, members of the project team were located in California, Texas, southern Illinois, and Chicago. The project manager for the vender had used a product from Groove Networks called Groove Virtual Office, and he suggested that we use the product for our project. Groove Virtual Office provided all of the tools necessary to function effectively as a team from many different locations. All team members had access to all project documents, project plans, and online communications tools they needed. Weekly meetings would be held online or via conference call. All team members were signed on to Groove during the conference calls so instant access to documents was available. Groove was a very effective tool for our project team throughout the duration of the project. When the team completed the project, it was very easy to archive all documents and notes because they were stored in one place.

Groove Virtual Office Tools

  • Document Repository
  • Offline Access to Documents
  • Project Plan
  • Instant Messaging
  • Visibility of Team Members Status (online/offline)
  • Microsoft Office Integration

Large US Online University Learning Teams

One of the most useful and fulfilling parts of a large US online university’s approach to education is the idea of the learning team. In each class, instructors group students together into learning teams. In addition to individual work, there is a team assignment due each week. At the end of the class, these weekly assignments culminate in a complete term paper for the team. The most important lesson I learned by working with the teams was learning how to work with individuals in different physical locations using nothing but online tools. The university supplied a newsgroup setting for the teams to store and share messages and documents. Students also could use any instant messaging tool and e-mail to communicate. The teams I worked with all used the newsgroup extensively to communicate. They also used instant messaging to have real time meetings. The most geographically diverse team I worked with had a user in India, another user in South Korea, a user in New Jersey, another user in California, and me in Chicago. This team used the newsgroup setting almost exclusively due to the difference in time zones. Even with the great distances between team members, the team came together and functioned effectively creating a product that earned an A grade. The combination of the newsgroup, e-mail, and instant messaging provided an environment that allowed the learning teams to be successful.

Learning Team Tools

  • Newsgroup (accessed through MS Outlook Express)
  • E-mail (accessed via the web or MS Outlook Express)
  • Instant Messaging (MSN Messenger, AOL Instant Messenger, Yahoo! Instant Messenger)

Summary and Conclusions

While each approach to online collaboration discussed above provided an environment that allowed the teams to succeed, they each had shortcomings that prevented them from being the perfect solution (although Groove Virtual Office comes very close). Based on my experiences with working with teams in an online environment, teams need the following tools to be effective and successful:

  • Common Document Repository
    • Check-In/Check-Out Functionality to Avoid Duplicated or Wasted Work
    • Online/Offline Access to Documents
    • Real-Time Synchronization While Online
  • Common Message Repository to Post and Archive Messages (questions/comments/notes)
  • Instant Messaging with Conversation Archiving
  • Visibility of Team Members Status (online/offline)
  • Microsoft Office Integration

Following are additional tools that may also be useful:

With these tools in place, a team can collaborate effectively and successfully in an online environment. All team members have access to the same documents and information at all times, and they can also communicate in real time with the ability to save the conversations for later use.