Debating Paperless - Interview with Alex Gulakov

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Hey folks. I apologize for the unexpected hiatus - I'm back now so I'll kick things off with a little venture into the world of paperless debating.

What is paperless debating? Simply put, it is a system that discards the usual organizational method of physical tubs, expandos, and papers in favor of an all-digital system. This might seem radical to you, especially if you're used to being able to hold the evidence you read and the flows you take notes on. But just as 3x5 index cards have gone the way of the dinosaur, so I believe that paper debating will decline altogether. Why not start your transition now?

I had the privlidge of being able to interview Alex Gulakov, a freshman at the University of Texas and designer of the highly-regarded Synergy paperless debate software suite. What's more - it's free! Anyone with a Windows OS can download the latest version here: http://georgetowndebateseminar.wikispaces.com/synergy (Mac users will require Bootcamp or equivalent)

If you're still not quite sure yet about debating paperless, read on.

Nick: What is Debate Synergy?

Alex: Debate Synergy's the name of the suite that includes a lot of my software geared towards online researching, judging debates, and paperless. There are always new features and aspects that I am adding to it, but right now it has  Excel, Word, and Firefox addons. Check it out:
Office addons: http://georgetowndebateseminar.wikispaces.com/synergy
Firefox addons: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/13295

Nick: Why debate paperless?

Alex: Everyone has their own things they like about it, for me one of the main things is ease of organization -- both pre-round, where I don't have to worry about printing update files for the aff, and in-round where I can change blocks on the fly and always have instant access to all the evidence for extending it in the rebuttals. It also makes it easier to find and recall files written before.

Nick: How difficult is the transition away from the traditional paper-based format? Is there a learning curve from a technological standpoint?

Alex: I suppose that depends on how tech savvy you are, but if a fourth of the college debate community could do it over one year, it's not all that difficult. It just takes some practice and adjusting your file formats, which Debate Synergy aims to make super easy. I get about two to three emails daily from people asking about transitions to paperless and about Debate Synergy, so I've become pretty good at responding quickly with advice and I'll be doing some summer camp instruction about this as well. Be sure to email me if you have questions regarding the transition.

Nick: Are there any disadvantages inherent to paperless? How can one best mitigate these?

Alex: The ones that stand out the most I've described in my FAQ -- namely the transition process and the fact that it is possible for your opponents to take your evidence from your USB. One of the key goals of Debate Synergy is to make the transition easier and the USB issue is something that I have sort of gotten over, I'm ambivalent about the perception of the debate community as to the necessity of securing / locking files.

Nick: Do you think paperless debating will eventually become the norm rather than the exception?

Alex: Yes, I think close to half the teams I debate [in college] are now paperless and this is just a year after it's been introduced. Coaches will do it for the ease of travel and savings, college debaters will do it for the leaps in organization, and I will be there to provide the technology to make the transition easier for high school debaters.

Nick: Beyond your Debate Synergy software are there any other resources paperless debaters should be familiar with?

Alex: Everything. Literally, google for the program called "Everything" -- it makes searching for files so much easier and quicker. That's just one thing, though. I will be making a big post on the the3nr.com sometime in the future with the release of the next major version of Debate Synergy that will have a much more comprehensive post about technology / research / paperless recommendations.

I have some pretty big features and enhancements planned for the new Firefox and Office versions that I have been working on for months now and am very excited about.

Questions? Email Alex at alexgulakov@gmail.com

- Nick

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