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Lunarr: A different philosophy for collaboration

A new collaboration platform pushes the idea of a "back page" for collaborating on documents and files.

Lunarr is a new collaboration platform launching today as a semipublic alpha test. Like many of the workflow systems we covered recently from the Office 2.0 conference, this tool is designed to bring some order to the job of shuffling documents and ideas among co-workers, in a way that e-mail does not.

Lunarr displays Web pages for collaboration as their own "front pages..."

The differentiating feature of Lunarr is its concept of a "back page" of documents. No matter whether you create a document in Lunarr or import one, each gets its own dedicated conversation thread around it. Philosophically, the founders, Toru Takasuka and Hideshi Hamaguchi, are trying to invert the concept of having e-mail threads act as the core collaborative concept, with documents attached to them. They think it makes more sense for documents to be core, and for e-mail threads to be attached to those.

Google Docs, other online suites with collaboration features, and visual document review products like Review Basics [review], Octopz [review] and ConceptShare [review], sort of do this already. Lunarr's difference here is that each user has his or her own e-mail thread, instead of just one big discussion on each document. But the document itself remains the keystone of the work for everyone who's involved.

... and the "back page" is where the discussion happens.

Lunarr is based on a simple idea, but not quite ready for prime time for a few reasons, which I believe could be fixed before the product goes into beta. For instance, Lunarr can work with imported and attached documents, but it really needs a suite of online productivity applications to make sense. In the demo I tried, there were templates for online documents (business plans, debates, and more), but they weren't editable. I imagine a pure all-online collabative suite is on the way, perhaps via OpenSAM-compliant applications such as iNetWord and EditGrid. Also, when Lunarr sends e-mail notifications to users, it doesn't send any more information (like the content of the comment). Users have to log in to Lunarr to see what's going on. Other systems send comments in e-mail and channel direct replies back into the online discussion thread, giving users an important option: They can engage deeply in the collaboration flow, or just handle it via a quick e-mail.

Also, while you can import Web pages as documents for discussion, there's no onscreen markup for them.

I am having a hard time wrapping my head around Lunarr, and for that selfish reason I don't see it taking off here. It may be that Lunarr is simply based on a different collaborative culture than what I am used to. I didn't want to get into this with the Japanese founders of the company, but when we began to talk about how collaboration in English and Japanese versions of Wikipedia are different (more edit wars in the English, more back-channel discussions in the Japanese), I began to understand how it can make sense to have a product that maintains a calm and collected "face," while also allowing individuals to manage their own private discussions that don't appear to the public. In other words, Lunarr's concepts can work. But they might not work for you.