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Why use Ensembling?


Why not just use mark-up in Microsoft Word or Adobe Acrobat?

Ensembling is a solution to the whole workflow involved in collective production of documents. Word and Acrobat only address parts of the problem. Ensembling was developed specifically to deal with the things Word and Acrobat don't do or don't do well.

Poor readability of Word's tracked changes

Both Word and Acrobat provide mark-up and comment facilities. Word does this through "track changes" which uses colour and strike through of text to try to show who has made a change.
Any significant amount of change in Word's track changes quickly gets hard to read, though. You also can't see what effect the changes are having on the pagination and layout of the document.
In contrast, Ensembling just notes the position of a problem and keeps the mark-up alongside.

You need the Why as well as the What

Using Word, it's hard for a proof reader to indicate why a change was made, to justify it or for an editor to say whether a suggested change is acceptable. You could use Word's comment facility (though comments are presented quite subtly), and any such comments then become part of the document so may be entirely inappropriately retained in the end result.
In contrast, Ensembling's comments are separate and can provide suggested alterations as well as discussion about the change, as you wish. Each comment can be a whole conversation between several people seeking the best solution.

No workflow support. Proliferation of copies.

More problematic though is the workflow. Typically Word documents get emailed around for comment. So multiple copies proliferate and the original author becomes less and less sure which is the original and what is where. Email gets overwhelming. This can be manageable working between an author and proof reader, but as soon as three or more people are involved it quickly gets out of hand. Multiple copies go out to lots of people and the results either have to be manually collated or one has to be really disciplined on getting comments back from one person before sending the document out to another.
In contrast, Ensembling provides a workflow and a structure. It is always clear which is the original (and it recognises this may be the one the author has on their disk, so doesn't force you to download again something you've already got).

Lack of communication

Using just track changes, team members don't get to see what each other is saying about the document. They can't keep abreast of what's changing automatically. People waste time making the same corrections as each other.
In contrast, Ensembling collates all the comments as they are made and lets you filter and re-order them according to your role in the project. You can use Ensembling to keep track of which comments you've dealt with or prioritise some comments over others. Ensembling let's you see changes to individual files or a whole project by automatically batching up changes in a summary email or RSS feed.

Lack of collation

It's true that Ensembling comments do have to be incorporated manually into the original document. However, if you have multiple proof-readers working on copies of the same Word document, that's also the case with Word. And even when you do have one file with all the changes in it, you'll still need to review and accept or reject each change manually. Ensembling let's people discuss a proposed change too, so you can see what people consider to be the pros and cons of a change, so review is easier. And what if one person is responsible for deciding on what changes to make (an editor) and another for applying them - how is that communicated?

No audit trail

Documents just circulated or tracked in Word or PDF don't leave a record of the previous versions and who changed what, when and why.

No storage. Overwriting changes

Word is just an editor, so it doesn't provide a central place where the various documents that go to make up a project are stored and accumulated. Ensembling does. Of course you can have a shared file system or other kind of central file store, but a simple file store fails to manage people making changes simultaneously - it's too easy for one person to overwrite another's changes.
While someone could ignore all of Ensembling's warnings and overwrite someone else's changes, all older versions are kept, so if they do, you don't actually lose anything.

Acrobat costs

Acrobat offers comments not too dissimilar from those in Ensembling. However they are only available in the full version of Acrobat. That is an expensive program and everyone involved has to have a copy. That's especially a bar to casual or temporary involvement in a project.

Acrobat forces you to use PDF

Doing it this way also means that all documents have to be converted to PDF to be marked up and you can't easily mix document types.
In contrast, Ensembling understands lots of document types and lets you use PDF for those it doesn't understand. You use the tools you already have or are most appropriate to the task in hand.
Using Acrobat, all the same disadvantages as in Word arise if comments are collated by emailing multiple copies between colleagues. Acrobat does provide collaborative workgroup facilities - but this requires an additional subscription, and again requires everyone to work in PDF.

What about pictures and other file types?

Of course, not all solutions originate in Word or are conveniently turned into PDF. This is particularly the case with pictures. Yes, you can put picture in a Word document, but why bother? You can't use Word to point at somewhere in a picture and say "this bit needs to be darker". You end up describing the context. You might as well use the original picture. Except that not everyone can handle TIFF files in particular. You could put pictures in PDFs and then people can comment in this way; but that has all the disadvantages of PDF for text as well as the extra steps of wrapping stuff up as PDF unnecessarily.
In contrast, Ensembling understands pictures, so you can mark them up just as you would text. Also, you can keep a caption along with a picture. You can provide a large high resolution picture as the original and Ensembling will show it at a manageable size.