Hydra and iStorm


Hydra caused quite a stir at ETCon last week. I thought it very helpful in getting a group to capture thoughts together. iStorm is a similarly positioned product. I looked into it and here's what I thought.

iStorm bills itself as "the worlds most innovative collaboration tool." iStorm is a collaborative editor like Hydra, but also comes with a drawing board and chat client. It can even understand LaTeX which could be really helpful for collaboratively doing math. Here's my one minute review:

  • iStorm requires per-user licensing for more than two users. Collaboration takes place between like-licensed instances of the application. This would have made the kind of wild-fire experience that happened at ETCon impossible.
  • The blackboard would be nice. iChat with Rendezvous seems to work just fine in most instances. LaTeX is handy if you need formulas.
  • Unlike Hydra, iStorm allows only one person to edit the document at a time by means of a glowing ball that changes colors and acts like a semaphore. I think Hydra's free-for-all is much more interesting and more natural. In a conversation with a large group, people frequently step on each other.

Clay Shirky mentioned in his talk that he uses chats and wikis to help manage large conference calls. People use the chat to "get in line" for a turn to speak and do other administrative tasks. They can use the wiki to make notes on the agenda, and keep track of links, references, statistics, etc. Of course the problem there is that wikis don't allow real-time free-for-all editing like Hydra, so everyone can take notes in their own topic, but they can't take notes on the same topic (in the wiki technical sense). Combine these kinds of tools with the web for broadcasting slides and you've got a conferencing facility that is effective and relatively inexpensive.