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Group note-taking at cons


For years now, I've been thinking it would be cool to have a system for collaborative audience note-taking at sf convention panels. I've heard of such things at tech conventions, and I've done a little of it at meetings, but I don't think I've seen it done at a science fiction convention.

Just woke up with a possible approach in mind, though it needs refinement:

What if someone—whether affiliated with the con or not—were to create a Google Doc ahead of time for each programming item?

I think we could mass-create the documents using the Google Documents List API, and if we could get an electronic copy of the con's programming info, we could pre-populate each document with the panel name, date/time of panel, panel description, and list of panelists.

Some potential problems and issues:

  • Would anyone even be interested in this? At WisCon, for example, which is where I'm most interested in doing this, I rarely see people typing notes during panels—often Liz H, sometimes one or two others.
  • How well would collaborative/group note-taking work in the sf con environment? Taking collaborative notes might take some getting used to; my experience at meetings has been that it's worked best when one person is the main note-taker and others fill in additional material and make corrections and clean stuff up, but I'm not sure that would work at a con panel.
  • How do you make it convenient for the audience members who want to take notes to find the documents, given how non-intuitive Google Docs URLs are? I suppose we could just have a page that contains links to all of them.
  • Would the docs be publicly/world-editable? If so, would there be a problem with vandalism by random strangers who aren't at the con? I think we could fix this to a first approximation using the abovementioned page-of-links, and make the documents editable only by people who have the URL (rather than by anyone in the world); that way someone would have to explicitly visit the page-of-links to get to the document, which I think would reduce the likelihood of random drive-by vandalism, though obviously wouldn't prevent it.
  • Would this approach result in a lot of back-channel audience discussion that would be invisible to the panelists and the rest of the audience?

Obviously the idea needs some polishing, and possibly it's not worth the work it would require; as noted above, I don't know whether anyone would actually use this system. But I think there's some potential, and figured it couldn't hurt to toss the idea out to the crowd.


What are the pros and cons of Google Docs vs a con-specific Wiki?

Google Docs lets multiple people edit the same document at the same time, in WYSIWYG view.

If there are wikis that do that, then there's probably no advantage to using Google Docs. But the wikis I'm familiar with (a) don't let you see other people's changes in realtime (I'm not sure how they reconcile multiple overlapping edits), and (b) require you to use wiki markup.

Wikis do make linking between documents arguably easier, and you can require people to register in order to use them, but I think you'd lose a lot of the benefit of realtime collaboration by using a wiki. Unless, again, there are wikis with capabilities like those of Google Docs, which there may well be.

I don't mean to say that Google Docs is the only tool that can do this kind of thing. But it's the one I'm most familiar with, and I suspect it's the one with the least amount of startup overhead for new users (all they need is a Net connection and, possibly, a Google Account), and it's free, and it's fairly easy to automatically create and populate a collection of new documents.

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