The THING Project initially developed www.thingproject.eu as a one stop location which would allow interested parties to find out about project activities, but which also provided facilities for project members to discuss work, share documentation, and organise activities. The website was constructed using Drupal 6, an open-source content management system (CMS).
Users had the facility to log onto the forums, post material, and tag material to assist in arranging content by theme. However, it was soon found that the site was not quite meeting the requirements of the project. This was largely due to the complexity of the CMS interface, and the lack of email updates to notify users when an item was posted or thread updated. It was decided to continue thingsites.eu as a public facing platform, but to move the project management side of the site into an off the shelf Project Management platform.
A number of different project management software solutions are available online. The THING Project chose Basecamp an online solution which would allow project partners to log on and work on material wherever they are in the world. The site offers discussion boards, document uploads, calendar and scheduling, to do lists, project milestones and task assignment. A page was created for each project output or workgroup in order to facilitate discussion on the material being worked on. Partners could upload working documents, or download material to work on themselves, share images and other files, as well as keep track of individual tasks to be completed. A forum based message service allowed partners to discuss work being undertaken, and engage other interested users in the work of the project. All information on individual ‘pages’ or work-tasks can be viewed together on the project dashboard, making it easy to achieve an overview of the progress of the project as a whole.
Basecamp also has the facility to send email updates whenever a new item is posted. Users can opt to copy the entire project network into the email, or just send to specific individuals working on a task. Individual project members can also be assigned to different workgroups, and will receive a regular email updates on the progress of that element of the project.
For real time meetings the project utilised a number of different methods. Skype offers free online calling facilities, plus messenger services. Videoconferencing between two accounts is available for the free version, while premium subscriptions support up to 10 individuals. To use Skype simply download the software onto your machine and install it. Calls require the use of a microphone (either built in or plug in), and it is recommended that when using any online calling or videoconferencing software that headphones are used rather than speakers as this prevents feedback loops and extra noise on the line.
While Skype was found to be sufficient for smaller workgroup meetings, it was found that the sound quality suffered significantly during meetings of over four or five individuals. Some partners also found difficulty with Skype as their organisations security and network settings blocked its use. Because of this it was decided to revert to traditional telephone based conference calling to conduct meetings for larger groups. Phone meetings were therefore the normal mode of contact for management team and steering committee meetings.
- Google Hangouts
WP4 meetings explored further web 2.0 conferencing options by working with Google + and Google Hangouts. Unlike Skype, Google Hangout does not require software to be downloaded or installed. Instead users must sign up for a Google + account. Once an account has been created users can add other members to their ‘circle’ and then can initiate a ‘Hangout’ or web-chat with them. Unlike Skype it is also possible to undertake videoconferencing between 10 individual users providing these users have a webcam. Meetings were held between up to 5 people and no loss of call quality was recorded. As with Skype, use of this service requires a microphone, headphones and also a webcam.
Arranging meetings around the schedules of individuals in different time zones with varying working hours and other commitments can prove to be challenging. To tackle this problem the THING Project used the free online scheduling service Doodle. The site simplifies the process of scheduling events, and does not require registration or payment, either by the initiator or responders. The initiator simply constructs a doodle schedule with a range of available dates for the event which needs to be scheduled, and then emails a link to participants asking them to express their availability. Users can then access the schedule, enter their name and select the times and dates on which they are available, allowing the initiator to select the most convenient time for all involved. The THING Project found this particularly useful in scheduling Skype, Phone and Google+ Hangout meetings. Doodle does not allow for differing time zones however, so users must take care to clarify this when setting up the schedule.
- Google Documents
In some cases it was desirable for multiple individuals to be able to work on and edit a document. Rather than have multiple copies of the same document, which risks duplication and confusion, the THING Project utilised Google Documents. Google Documents is a cloud based document storage facility. Documents are stored online and can be edited within the browser by multiple users. Use of Google Documents requires a Google account, however it is possible for people to view the documents produced without this. Google Documents supports document, spreadsheet, presentation and drawing applications.