I have been exploring server-based apps online the last few months, trying to help an offline group with 100+ members develop a platform for sharing news and schedules. As with just about any volunteer entity, there is, to put it politely, a wide range of computer comfort among its members.
On one side there are the fast adapters who are quick to learn new things and find it fun to do so. In the middle, there are the semi-techs, or later bloomers, who may know the basics of a few favorite functions such as email and word processing, but not a whole lot more. On the other end of the spectrum are the semi-Luddites with high computer anxiety who mouse around reluctantly.
And the icing on this layer cake is that all of them use an assortment of software and CPUs, old and new.
In short, it's an IT management nightmare to get them all on the same page doing similar things online at a similar time. What seems like the simplest instructions aren't so simple at all for those who are flying blind and clicking by rote without much of a mental paradigm.
If they all stuck with their own applications and their old computing habits, supporting them all would become more than a full time job. That's tough for any entity run by volunteers for free.
Longer-Timers & Later Bloomers
In this sort of crazy-quilt setting where no single system rules, it would seem to make good sense to move the whole group online where they all will use the same tools. In cloud computing, the application and the data are both stored off-site on a server in the "cloud" and any authorized user can access the same functions and files from anywhere else any time.
In theory, this makes server-based groupware such as Google Docs, Zoho, The
Groupery or Big Tent (links below), an obvious option for any volunteer group to consider. In
practice, it still takes a lot of 'splaining to get all members using any new platform comfortably.
I worry a bit that long- time web-vets too wedded to longstanding routines, and later comers who never became too adept, may stay stuck in more static Web 1.0 paradigms for quite awhile yet.
These longer-timers and later-bloomers are the people who may have the most to alter before they change how they operate. As such they run the biggest risk of missing out on what's cool and neat and much more efficent in the 2.0 universe where applications are frequently free and often offer a level of elegant ease that we never saw back in the day when software only came in a box.
From what I have witnessed so far, it may not be long until only the creaking old vets will even recall what "RTFM" used to mean.
As a very small case in point about what one slick tiny app is doing for me, I found that free little Clip2Net utility I mentioned last post and learned how to use it quickly, just by clicking around, no manual needed. That single little screenshot snipper has saved me a ton of time already, but I never would have known it was there if I hadn't plugged into the blogosphere.
The Leapfrog Effect
This new ease of use we see in the world of widgets and the early apps to be served up on the clouds could save later-comers a lot of pain. But to the extent they get it exists, a good many end-users still think that Web 2.0 is largely irrelevant. On the surface, it seems too much like it's just an insider's club for hip young cyberati pitching fast balls on blogs and social nets. "Who has the time or the need?" they think while passing up on the latest link to a new RSS feed.
o Zoho: a wide ranging suite of office apps, free for personal and small group use
o The Groupery: free cloud computing helps school and class-based groups and other volunteer entities stay in touch and organized, including a suite of money management tools
o Big Tent: another free cloud-based platform that helps groups run their ops online while users can manage multiple Big Tent memberships