Online collaboration - the blessings of low bandwidth.

Anyone who has suffered the frustrations of online conferences has every reason to prefer face-to-face. (The video link below the advertisement at A Conference Call in Real Life - is an excellent send-up of the frustrations of high bandwidth conference calls).

It's so much easier with the low-bandwidth constraints we have in Dadamac UK-Africa meetings (UK-Nigeria weekly meetings and First Thursdays). We don't have enough bandwidth for audio or video, but we can type.

Benefits

A typed meeting has several benefits. There is no need to decide who should be "speaking". As long as people are addressing the same agenda point it doesn't matter how many people are typing in parallel. It doesn't even disrupt things unduly if people aren't there all of the time. People who come late, or whose connection drops, or who have other interruptions, can catch up by reading what they've missed.

In some ways a typed meeting can even compete with face-to-face. Links to reference documents are easily shared. Key quotes can be easily cut and pasted for everyone to read. People can choose to read what they need to as they go along. All this means that the pace and content of the meeting can be more fluid and under individual controll than in a face-to-face meeting. An additional benefit is that at the end there can be no disagreement about what has been covered or agreed because it was all put in writing as it went along. Naturally things go most smoothly when people know each other, are accustomed to a shared way of working and know how to get the most out of the online opportunity to meet.

Appropriate use

It's not that I don't appreciate face to face meetings. I do.

I'm simply making the case for one kind of online meeting over another. I'm an evangelist for appropriate and inclusive technology. I recoil from assumptions that bigger, faster or newer is always best.

Of course there are problems with online low-bandwidth meetings, but for us in Dadamac it is either low-bandwidth, group meetings or no group meetings at all. Many of the people in our network have never met each other, never seen each others faces (except perhaps in photos) and have never heard each others voices. Probably they never will. I rejoice that we have the opportunity for our low-bandwidth meetings, which are the foundation for so much of Dadamac's work.