Tuesday, April 5, 2011

How it all happened

I want to share how this all came to be.

About an hour before the First Session of conference I read the following blog post on lifehacker.com (Use Google Docs for powerful collaborative school note taking) Seeming I already graduated I initially thought, "why couldn't this of been written a few years ago."  Without thought, I sent the blog post to my mom stating, "we could take this concept and use it for conference notes." And then it clicked. What if I could do an open invitation to whomever wanted to join and we could collaborate our conference notes together, not after the fact, but real-time.  

The advantage of Google Docs Google Drive would allow for real-time note taking and assisting one another. So I went to my Google Docs Drive account and set up the blank document.  I changed the privacy settings to "Public on the web - Anyone on the Internet can find and edit"  I knew I wanted to do an outline format so I started set it up basically with Talk: and then a few bullet-points for anyone to use.  I added any hymns and that would be place along with other information such as conducting and prayers.
I knew some people would come to the site not knowing what was going on, so I made basic instructions of what I was doing, the experiment and that anyone was welcomed to join in. I also created a survey form for people to fill out for feedback.  At about 5-mins before the Saturday AM session began, I sent out my first tweet.
~"LDS General Conference Online Collaboration Experiment http://bit.ly/dVJfDP Help out if you wish. #LDSCONF"

Conference was starting and I had a few people come in and just leave.  Everyone came in as an anonymous user because there is no needed to be logged-in or have a Google account to participate. As the session started I filled in the outline/notes because I knew what I wanted.  Some user came in, but no one was helping.  As Pres. Monson started his opening address another cursor popped onto the screen. "Someone gets it," I thought. The cursor just fixed a spelling error.  I sent out another tweet.  More hits, more people staying.  About half-way through finally someone else was writing a point they thought pertinent. Yes! By the time Pres. Monson finished I had about 6 users and 3 cursors.

The session kept going and more hits, however I never had more than 15 people viewing at one time.  At the end of the session about three of us successfully collaborated the notes.  I thought it was a personal success.  I had never done anything like this and I was excited that random members were willing to participate in this experiment. I went to see the response to the survey and there was only one response:

"Interesting.  I found it helpful for keeping myself focused on Conference talks. More complete instructions on what the ultimate product should look like."

So in between the break I refocused my instructions. Set up the same outline format with new instructions. I sent out another tweet before the PM Session started. There was some people already on the document. Wow. More hits and more cursors. This session maxed to about 29 users at one time. As the session went on those that had helped previously knew what was going on and other figured it out. About half-way in to the first speakers remarks I notice that there were links within the document. What a brilliant idea. The links ranged from scriptures to the Bios of the speakers on LDS.org. Amazing what a good tool if anyone not familiar could reference. During the intermediate hymn I express my thanks in the chat side bar. Appreciation was expressed in response. Amazements were also spoken of.

At the end I invited any brethren to come back post Priesthood Session to collaborate notes. Since it wouldn't be appropriate to do real-time.

Sunday Morning I logged on and even before I could send my first tweet the users present was 20. People were discussing, using the chat sidebar, how they found out about the site. Some said Twitter and other then mentioned Facebook. One person even posted a link on their personal website. I honestly didn't think it would go that far. I still sent out a tweet just to see if I could get more people on. The number of users ranged from 31 to 46. More collaboration more linking, more adding on to what someone else had written.

Someone described it as ant building an ant hill. All working together in a common goal. This time at the intermediate hymn someone had mention getting a domain that would link to the doc, because the doc's official url was long and didn't make any sense. Again I never thought of that because this was initially an experiment that went right. At the end someone offered to host the domain.

During the break we registered for a domain, www.ldsconfnotes.com (no longer registered). Due to timing the domain was not going to be available in time so we quickly used blogger.com and created www.ldsconfnotes.blogspot.com. I also split the sessions to individual docs. Everything was link on the blog, and inside every new session doc. The final session on Sunday I finally learned the limits of Google doc. Users were wondering why they couldn't help edit. Apparently Google Docs would only allow 50 unique editors. Those outside of that number were redirected to read only view. Collaboration took full steam. More points, more scriptures, more links. During President Monson's talk about temples in Brazil, someone even linked a Google map showing the distance between Manaus and Sao Paulo Brazil. Such great ideas to bring better understanding to the messages delivered by the speakers.

Did it accomplish what I wanted it to accomplish?
As it started out as an experiment, it did accomplish that. People are even asking for it to be available in October.  I have created alias email and twitter accounts.  I now vision to keep up the blog with posts until October.  Discussion has been out to see how the experience can be improved.  I encourage this technology to be used in family, wards, or any unit.

The current purpose is to provide collaborated notes to the talks until the ensign is mailed out.  A seminary teacher commented how this has helped him for his future classes.

As always any feedback is welcomed.