Last week, Take Control Books editor-in-chief Tonya Engst and I were putting the finishing touches on an upgrade to my “Take Control of Customizing Leopard” ebook (mostly to take account of changes wrought by the Mac OS X 10.5.2 update; see “Leopard 10.5.2: TidBITS Complains, Apple Listens, Sort Of,” 2008-02-12), when Tonya had a sudden idea. Instead of our normal routine of her emailing me the Microsoft Word file, my editing it, and then my having to mail it back to her, why not use iChat’s new screen sharing feature? All we needed, after all, was to fix a few verbal fine points here and there.
So that’s just what we did. I went on iChat, found Tonya in my Buddy List, started a text chat with her to make sure she had a moment free, and a few minutes later (after some rather silly kerfuffle that I’ll tell you about in a moment), presto, there was Tonya’s computer screen occupying my computer screen. She’d opened the Word document in question, and iChat was also automatically keeping us in voice contact. So she’d scroll down to a passage that needed tweaking and explain the problem. She could edit the passage and let me look at it, or I could edit the passage and let her look at it (we both had control of her computer’s mouse, but voice communication kept us from quarreling over it). So she’d say, “How about this?” and I’d say, “Good, but what about this?”, and in a few seconds we’d agree and move on to the next passage, and in a couple of minutes it was all over. We’d debated and made the edits; the task was finished, performed by both of us working together.
Collaborative editing isn’t new to TidBITS. We’ve made plenty of use of SubEthaEdit, and Tonya’s mind was already in a collaborative space from playing recently with Google Docs and Zoho Writer. But iChat screen sharing adds voice contact, and you’re not merely sharing a document, you’re editing and reading the same document simultaneously in real time, so it’s perfect for quick, lightweight brainstorming and cooperation. Not to mention the instant gratification of solving, in five minutes, with excellent communication, a problem that might have taken our heavyweight email correspondence system two days, with far clunkier communication. In short, it was efficient, satisfying, successful, fast, and fun. You should try it!
Here are just a couple of hints. First, on the target machine, screen sharing has to be turned on! We went nowhere until Tonya remembered to check Video > Screen Sharing Enabled. Second, when I chose Buddies > Ask To Share Tonya’s Screen, I got a little dialog with a spinning progress indicator, but Tonya’s screen didn’t appear until she had a brainwave and disconnected her second monitor. Then things went fine. Evidently certain multiple monitor setups can overwhelm the screen sharing feature, but annoyingly, neither iChat’s Connection Doctor nor any dialog lets you know what the trouble is.