A couple of weeks ago, Secret Blogging Seminar asked about tools for facilitating collaboration between mathematicians separated by wide distances. I’ve been working for quite some time on a project with Akshay Venkatesh (in New York, now moving to California) and Craig Westerland (sometimes in Madison, but sometimes in Denmark, and now moving to Australia) so I have a little experience with this. And I really want to put in a strong word for Vyew.
The one thing that’s essential to a good math conversation is a blackboard on which all involved can write; and that simple thing is what Vyew provides. Each participant in a Vyew meeting has a page on their screen on which all parties can type or draw pictures with the trackpad; when you’re finished working for the day, Vyew saves all the pages you’ve drawn, and you can pick up later exactly where you left off. There’s nothing particularly fancy about Vyew, but it’s fast, it’s free, it’s easy to use, and it works. Akshay, Craig and I usually use Skype to transmit our voices while we draw on the Vyew board; I believe you can transmit voices within Vyew as well.
Vyew is, of course, a tool for having long-distance conversations about math, not for producing actual papers. When it comes to writing, I’m still locked in the Neolithic practice of e-mailing drafts back and forth, always keeping track of which author has “custody” of the most up-to-date file. Is it time for me to start learning about version control?