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Lost Knowledge – Real Time Co-Authoring

Back in 2009, I found myself reminiscing about an old Documentum partner and one of their cool offerings.  As I wrote the article, several more scenarios of “Lost Knowledge” came to mind.  I had planned on starting a series of posts on the topic.  Here’s the second one seven years later.  (I promise to bring others back sooner.)

I had often been asked if two or more users could open the same document and make changes in the same file at the same time.  I had never seen it in action nor heard of anyone supporting this.  Therefore I didn’t believe it existed until I sat in on the FirstDoc User Group meeting in 2010.  Had I not been sitting next to one of the presenters, I would have sworn it was “demo magic”.  It wasn’t hocus pocus.

The Demo

CSC had acquired FCG and with it the FirstDoc solution FDA submissions.  I was at the FirstDoc User Group meeting in Boston when I saw the demo for the first time.  The demo had a rather simple script.  Two people needed to work on a part of a much larger document.  I expected to see virtual document management.  I didn’t.  What I saw was way cooler.  (How often can you say that in ECM?)

The person running the presentation introduced the person sitting next to me.  As the presenter introduced him, a little icon appeared in Microsoft Word with his name.  They both then proceeded to make edits on the same page at the same time as the demo continued.

My brain was “stuck”.  I despise “demo magic,” but bending technology to its limits is ok.  After the presentation I started my interrogation.

Under the Covers

So how does this work?  The interesting part was that they were using SharePoint out of the box to do exactly as the name implies, create a share point.  When the FCG solution went into collaboration, they created a new SharePoint group.  In the group they made the documents available for editing.  Then it was as simple as using out of the box SharePoint features.

Microsoft SharePoint calls it Document Collaboration and Co-Authoring.  It allows for concurrent editing of Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents.  The trick is that you can’t check out a document to use co-authoring.  It makes sense because two or more users really can’t check out the same document.

Where Are They Now?

“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”  When I meet a SharePoint person and have time for a conversation, I ask about Document Collaboration and Co-Authoring.  Every single one to date has said, “What’s that?”  How is it that a feature like this remains mostly unknown?  If no one knows it exists how long will it be there?

Microsoft does not promote Document Collaboration and Co-Authoring at all.  It’s been part of the platform since SharePoint 10.  It’s still in SharePoint 13.  But it’s something you learn only on Microsoft TechNet.  For instance, it took some real digging to get the maximum number of co-authors.  A forum answer tells me that the system defaults to 10 co-authors and you can have up to 99.  This highlights the challenge of trying to understand Document Collaboration and Co-Authoring.

Co-authoring is a popular request.  The question comes up in a majority of RFPs I see.  Isn’t Microsoft SharePoint seeing these RFPs too?

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