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If you are starting up a web, mobile, or standalone application, how well must you know the rest of your collaboration team? Would it be a bad idea to ever work with someone unless I've met him personally? Is it okay to sometimes accept small public contributions such as code snippets and artwork without meeting the contributor? Should I ever actively collaborate with people online that I have not met, as long as the person has a detailed profile and a good reputation.

If you do collaborate online, what tools do you to build teams and find contributors? If not, would you consider the idea if there was a safe medium? Any other input on the subject would be appreciated.

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Skype or another webcam and desktop sharing system can be a big help with remote collaberation. – jfrankcarr Feb 24 '12 at 12:01
up vote 6 down vote accepted

Not necessarily. It depends on the personalities of the people involved.

I've seen musicians actually write and perform compositions using Internet tools, never meeting in person. Programmers have the magical ability of distributed source control, so face-to-face meetings are not required at all to achieve something great.

Concerns about the quality of code that people submit, or whether or not they're on-board with the project's mission and vibe, can be alleviated by allowing people read access to the repository, but requiring another person to check in their changes after reviewing them. When a person develops a level of trust by submitting productive changes for a period of time, you can give them full access. Many open-source projects work this way.

Nevertheless, it is a fact that face to face meetings provide a much richer channel of communication than email, or even talking on the phone, especially if you're trying to collaborate on big-picture ideas. Webcams can substitute for much of this interaction, but not completely.

And if you plan on doing business dealings with this person where money changes hands, I would consider developing a business relationship face-to-face indispensable.

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You need to meet in person, and share some time together to build trust.

Once you have trust going on, you can stay 3 timezones apart and hardly even notice.

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In my opinion, collaboration will always be better in person. I've worked on distributed teams, I've worked with offshore teams, I've worked in teams that were all co-located except for one individual. In all cases, unquestionably, the teams where everyone was co-located had the best communication.

That being said, communication amongst a distributed team can still be more than Good Enough. I worked on two separate teams that were distributed -- on was multi-state, one was everyone within the same county. In both cases the teams worked quite well. It really depends on the individuals and the type of work they are doing.

So, do you need to meet personally? As always, that depends. You probably don't genuinely need it, but it sure helps.

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+1 I agree. It's not a binary things, just 'better' in person usually. – junky Feb 27 '12 at 1:03

I've worked for the last 18 months on a mission critical iOS line of business app. We have a manager, a Project Manager, and two developers. The two managers are at the east coast corporate headquarters, one developer is remote from the Midwest, and I'm remote from the west coast. When the project launched we spent a week together, and we've had follow up meetings of approximately a week three other times. I do 95% of the iOS development and the other developer does 95% of the server side.

We use telephone, email, and to collaborate. I pretty much need to work east coast hours.

Despite the fact that we have 50% management overhead we are extremely productive. In fact I think we rock. If we developers were at the corporate office I'm convinced our productivity would be just a fraction of what it is. When we are at the office frankly I'm shocked at the signal to noise ratio.

Obviously this requires professionalism, skill, and a strong ability to self-manage.

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