I’m a great fan of the file sync-and-share apps like Dropbox, Google Drive, and so on. But these tools are pretty light on collaboration. Yes, I can invite you to share a document, but Dropbox doesn’t provide a discussion thread linked to that doc, and so we have to collaborate elsewhere, such as — ugh — email.
Many work media and task management tools have started to integrate with these sync-and-share (see Wrike is the newest to integrate Dropbox Chooser) although many still lack this, even now in 2013 (see Taking a test drive on Kickoff, a new team task management tool).
Even though Dropbox has 100 million users, they have decided — at least at this point — to allow a developer ecosystem to flourish using their Dropbox Connect capabilities. One of these is the small and simple document collaboration tool, Dispatch (dispatch.io).
Rather than a task- or project-centered take on collaborative work, dispatch is oriented to document collaboration. A user creates a ‘dispatch’, document folder, and can share that with collaborators. Below is my list of dispatches. The blue dot indicates that Between Easton And Easton Falls has new updates, and the red circle with the one means I have notifications waiting.
Clicking on the notifications I see that my colleague, Other Boyd, has left a new comment, marked with a blue dot.
Each dispatch is a series of posts, with the most recent at the top, like a blog. In this way Dispatch reminds me of Posterous, although a much better designed one.
Files can be uploaded — in the old dumb, pre-sync-and-share model — or can be linked from Dropbox, Google Drive, Evernote and Box. URLs and ‘Notes’ can also be posted to the folder, and all three of these objects can be commented on, viewed, followed, or downloaded.
Clicking on the header of a post leads to opening its own page, as in the one below, which is a file synced from my hard drive (the first of a series of short stories I am working on, for fun).
I’ve used Dispatch on a real world project or two, and I really liked the tool in those contexts, which were very short-term, document-centric activities. There are a few other capabilities that I’d like to see, to get away from the ‘comments and revisions inside the document’ model supported by Microsoft Work, Apple Pages, and Google Docs. For example, I’d like to be able to select a word or section of the text, and link or refer to it in a comment, so that micro-level discussion would be possible. And at present there is no way to take advantage of versioning — although I have that capability turned on in my Dropbox account.
All in all, Dispatch can be a great collaborative adjunct to sharing files through any of these four services. I haven’t explored the other three, but if they work like the Dropbox integration, I wager that anyone who uses them will likely find Dispatch an essential tool for document-based collaboration.