When I heard about the Thinkquest '98 conference in Los Angeles last November, I jumped at the opportunity to meet some of the young people who were collaborating across continents without ever having met. Their perseverance and "figure it out yourself" attitude gave me the encouragement I needed to take my own efforts at international collaboration to the next level.

Thinkquest was created by Advanced Network & Services. In the first half of the '90s they helped build the fastest part of the Internet and are currently at work creating Internet 2 (more about this in a future interview here in glimpse). Thinkquest programs have catalyzed the creation of the largest database in the world of educational websites created by young people for young people.

I interviewed two collaborative groups, the first a team of two, Darrin Nix and Shigeki Seko, from Nicaragua and Japan. Their website has since become the official website of the tourist board of Nicaragua. And second, I had a conversation with Beth Abraham who met her two other team mates for the first time at the conference...]-[ CL ]-[

Can you share with us what it was like to communicate with your collaborator to design the site? You were working between Nicaragua and Japan. How was that?
    [Darrin] I started getting up at 6 o'clock in the evening and going to bed at 10 in the morning. That way our hours coincided and we could work together all night. We used ICQ and email to communicate. For example, I recorded about two hours of videos that I wanted to place on our site but I didn't have a video card on my computer. You couldn't get them in Nicaragua. So I packed the videos and sent them to Shigeki and he digitized them with his computer there. He didn't have editing software so then he sent the digitized movies back to me. It went around the world so that finally we could get the movies onto our site.

Do you have some advice to pass on to other young people attempting to collaborate across distance?
    [Darrin] To be flexible, to be patient, not to give up. It gets really frustrating at first and you might say to yourself, man, this doesn't work. I should have found someone in my hometown to collaborate with. But working with someone in another part of the world opens up opportunities that you don't get when you're working with someone right there with you. It makes everything a lot more fun and interesting. Just be persistent and don't give up.

    [Shigeki] I think you should trust your partner and take your time making a web site. You're not going to do the work in one week or one month. It takes time and collaboration and you have to trust your partner.

Visit Experience Nicaragua
Created by Shigeki Seko (Japan) and Darrin Nix (Nicaragua)


I am talking with Beth Abraham (Australia) about her website on Death that she created with partners Kuchal (U.S.) and Thijs (pronounce Ties--from the Netherlands). They met for the first time here at the conference. Beth, how did the three of you choose your topic?
    [Beth] I began the project knowing virtually nothing about making web sites. Kuchal and I started together. We were considering doing a duo--that would have been harder. We were throwing ideas backward and forward for a few weeks. I think one of us came up with death and the other one hooked on and it blew up from there. We wanted to contribute something original. One of the main reasons we chose death as our topic... we wanted something that wasn't already out there...It's a universal topic. It's so amazingly huge and people are fascinated by it. It applies to everyone but they are also really scared of it at the same time which is fair enough. I've learned so much I just can't get over it, starting off as a total beginner and now...

What was your favorite web site about death that you ran across in doing your research?

What was it like to collaborate with people in other countries? You worked with people you never met before?
    Our time zones were ridiculous! I swear there's a 12 hour gap between each of us. Kuchal barely ever slept.

How did you connect?
    We used email and ICQ.

How did you meet each other?
    We met each other on the team maker. Thinkquest has this wonderful program out there. You put in your details and what you're looking for in a partner. You can sort through that and you can find a person who you think matches your needs. I went through a couple of people but we didn't really click straight away. Kuchal emailed me and we got along really well. After we'd come up with the idea we found Thijs and that was good too. It's been really difficult but it's been so fun too.

Talk about the difficulties.
    The difficulties, OK. I suppose if you look at it, having a face-to-face conversation and coming to compromise, we were three very stubborn people and with things like design aspects...we all had different ideas. Our front page changed so many times it was ridiculous. If you're talking to someone, you can come to a compromise and agree on something, but through email it's far more difficult. You have to send files backwards and forwards and you can't just point things out.

What advice can you give other people who are starting an online collaboration?
    I'd say early planning. Assign each person one thing. Make sure you're concerned about the other people. Take their suggestions. You can't just be one-sided and be, Ooh, this is how I want it! It's all about compromise really. I've learned it's 50 percent group work and 50 percent the actual content. That's been great for me, the communication and the group work has been a real bonus. I've excelled in that area as well which I'm proud of.

What are the skills that you've excelled in?
    I suppose describing things. You have to be really clear with what your saying. ICQ was a useful program. It's like an instant chat backwards and forwards. We used that heaps. It wasn't as good as talking but at least you got instant messages back and forth. That helped for clarifying.

I asked you some of the hard questions. What was the most delightful part of collaborating?
    It was wonderful. They're great people who I've met up with. The satisfaction of actually having achieved something is great. We're here, I'm in L.A. and it's such an amazing thing. I've never been outside Australia in my life and these people who I've only talked with for so long, I've met them! That was one of the best parts of the whole Thinkquest competition and why I would recommend working with people that you don't know. I'd say go for it. It's a fantastic opportunity. You have to be really committed and dedicated and basically, give up your summer, but it pays off in the end and there's a great sense of satisfaction and you meet wonderful people. It's so worthwhile. You've got to give it a shot.

Visit Death: An Inquiry Into Man's Mortal Weakness
Created by Beth Abraham (Australia), Thijs Jacobs (Netherlands) and Kushal Dave (United States)

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