In general, I am aware of four and a half methods of long-distance collaboration:
- Telephone (including voice-chat, VOIP, etc.; anything that is voice based)
- Text chat (chat room, IM, gchat, things like that)
- E-mail (or other asynchronous messaging system)
- Online whiteboards, real-time collaborative text editors, desktop-sharing (or other software, graphical system)
- (The half) Adding a webcam to any of the above and call it Video-blah.
What this question is not about
I am not asking about tools for collaborative paper-writing which has already been addressed here last year. So in particular, to limit the scope, this question is not about the part in a collaboration when all the ideas are set-out, all the heuristics checked, and all that's left is to flesh out the argument and write it up.
I am also not asking for just a list of services. I am fairly confident my Google-fu is at least as good as yours.
What this question is about
I am interested in tools that help collaboration in the earlier stage when we are still brainstorming, setting the scope of the project; or the stage where we are troubleshooting to fix a flawed argument. In other words, I am interested in the scenarios where the ideal thing to do would be for a face-to-face chat while writing on a black board or a piece of paper, but when it is difficult to do so (both of you have to teach, and you are on different continents).
In other words, I am asking about situations where real-time, instantaneous interactions are preferred (and so option 3, e-mail, should be reserved as a last resort). In this sense, voice interaction is preferred: it is a lot easier to interrupt the other party when talking then when typing, and be able to force a change of direction in the conversation. On the other hand, e-mail and a lot of the chat software has the advantage that your discussions are automatically documented and saved for future review. The main downside to a pure voice communication, however, is that (for me at least) mathematics is visual. It helps a lot when there is a black board or a piece of paper with equations on it on which I can focus my attention. So I'm especially interested in ways that I can share mathematics visually (rendered LaTeX, diagrams, things like that).
There are two questions:
- Personal testimonials: of the above solutions, which, and in what combinations, have you used and feel strongly about. I would especially appreciate it if you can say a few words about the strengths and potential weaknesses of the setup.
- Thinking outside the box: are there other solutions that I have overlooked in my list above?