:: urbansheep (urbansheep) wrote,
:: urbansheep
urbansheep

[ L ] Hydra — Realtime Multi-threaded Conversations

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Yesterday I played with Hydra, a collaborative text editor that allows several people to write in the same document at the same time. It's intended for coders using the Extreme Programming approach of coding in pairs. Being the curious sort, I (mis)used it with three other grad students to have a discussion about enchantment and wonder, last week's topic in our seminar course (the one Marc Rettig teaches).

It was definitely interesting, though frustrating at times. Very different from a group chat session on instant messenger. Each person was engaged in multiple threads of conversations simultaneously, so sometimes everyone converged at one point in the document or worked in pairs, while other times we were off posing a new question or building out some other thought. As I the watched multiple lines of text stretch across the page together, everyone's thoughts all intertwingled, it was the closest I'd seen to watching a document "grow".

The experience of collaborating in such a discussion was challenging because it was at times like a wost-case scenario of partial attention: you want to be really engaged in what you're currently writing, but ooh, I see someone just refuted something else I'd said, and wait, I really want to get in a point about that other thing before they move on. Conversations around an issue never fully resolved - there was always another discussion to go tend to.

The experience was deeply engaging, but in a different way than most other thought processes. If you could get past the information anxiety of the thing (not easily done), it was highly productive, albeit a someone fragmented and (again) intertwingled sort of productivity. As multitasking goes, it felt like how a drummer friend had once explained his feeling when he was playing different time signatures simultaneously using his arms and feet, one of those musical tricks like circular breathing that one could use to great effect if you practiced at it.

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