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Have you ever walked into a meeting or presentation and been given a printed handout? And during the meeting, did you flip the handout over and start taking notes on the back of the document, maybe even passing it to a co-worker who added notes of his or her own?
In the most basic sense, this is the idea behind Lunarr. Lunarr adds a Web-based back page to any content submitted into the system, whether it’s a Microsoft Word document, PDF, Lunarr-created document, or any Web page or application.
Of course, Lunarr’s back page holds quite a bit more than notes and doodles. It contains every e-mail sent or received pertaining to that document, information on every version and revision of the document, links to every external document or Web site related to that document, and a list of every person who has collaborated on that document.
This might seem like a simple concept, but it’s pretty much the exact opposite of the way most document-based collaboration and task management takes place. In the classic (and most common) e-mail-based collaboration, there is limited or no control over the versioning and integrity of the core document being collaborated on, and users can find it difficult to track all the e-mails and discussions related to that document.
Collaboration, project and content management systems provide more structure and document integrity but still proceed from the idea that the document is something that gets inserted into the collaboration and not the core piece of the collaboration itself.
Newer options such as Google Apps Premier Edition offer a nice shared document environment but have limited or no ability to track discussions or know who has done what.
Because of Lunarr’s ability to work with anything that can be accessed with a Web link, it has the impressive capability to add collaboration and task management to any Web site or application. In our tests, we were able to add Lunarr back pages to everything from Google Apps to Facebook pages to a LiquidPlanner project page.
With this capability, Lunarr makes it possible to collaborate on pretty much anything, and, whether the service itself proves successful, points to true next-generation Web applications, where deeper functionality such as collaboration can be layered onto any other Web application. Using Lunarr is simple enough. Once logged in to the application, which is currently in an invite-only beta, I was able to quickly start collaborating on documents.
There were several options for adding content into Lunarr. For those wishing to create an internal Lunarr document (which is essentially a rich wiki page), the beta includes several basic templates, ranging from a blank page to templates for reports, planning sessions and specifications requirements.
I could also upload pretty much any document type; to add Lunarr capabilities to a Web page or application, I simply entered the address of the site.
Sites or documents viewed from within Lunarr look essentially the same as they do in their original form, except for small visual cues. For example, in the upper right-hand corner is a small visual page fold, which, when clicked on, brings up the document’s back page.
Lunarr also adds functionality to the front page, in the form of a bottom tool bar that provides the ability to, for example, lock the document from changes by collaborators.
It’s also possible to convert some document and format types, such as Microsoft Office and PDF documents, into the Web-based Lunarr format and carry out direct edits within the documents. On the back page of the documents, these revisions would be detailed, along with information about the user who made the changes.
However, with other formats, such as images and live Web sites, Lunarr provides no direct means of editing. I would have liked to see at least the ability to add markups, such as comment bubbles and arrows and other symbols, on top of the page or application.
From any back page, users can invite other users to collaborate on a document via an e-mail from a Lunarr account. Right now, the system works only with Lunarr e-mail (although it will send notifications to the external e-mail listed in your account), but Lunarr officials said they hope to add the ability to fully use the system with any mail system.
Once a user is invited, all correspondence about the document is kept in a thread on the back page. In addition, any document or Web page attached to an e-mail shows up in a separate linked-documents listing on the back page.
Lunarr users can view an in-box of documents they are working on. There’s also a dashboard view, but it doesn’t show much except for what features of Lunarr you have used. Very basic configuration settings let users add a contact picture and define contact information such as address, e-mail and phone.
Lunarr is still in an early form, but it provides an interesting view into a new and potentially very effective way to collaborate on documents and Web-based applications.
The Lunarr beta state is slated to run for the next year, and the service will remain free during that time. According to Lunarr officials, pricing plans are still very much up in the air, although they could include a monthly subscription model.
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