There are many instances when the ability to remotely collaborate on a project with a colleague is a real boon. The same is true outside of paid work, too. But people don’t always need to be a long distance apart for web-based collaborative working to be useful. Many voluntary and community projects and activities involve people who can’t always meet up to discuss and share their ideas, even when they live very close to each other.

Students working on projects may find it’s often more convenient to get together using a computer than to meet in a physical space, for example. And family members sharing the workload of putting together a family tree or organising a reunion can find the web offers a useful way to share ideas.

The ability to access an online repository of collective ideas can be more reliable than expecting one individual in the group to capture, organise and share information on behalf of everybody, too. See Business Advisor.

When we think of ‘collaborative working’, we tend to imagine document-sharing systems such as Google Docs. But what about idea-generation- and brainstorming-type activities? That’s where whiteboarding comes into its own. Such online services allow for the capture of freeform ideas and aid the generation of new projects by bringing together a group of people’s thoughts, all in one place.

Here, we look at two online whiteboarding services, each with a slightly different approach. Dabbleboard, the subject of our first workshop, is a freeform system that lets you create and capture ideas visually; Writeboard, meanwhile, concentrates on shared text creation. Both services have a place in the arsenal of any group wanting to share creative processes. Office software reviews.

Visual brainstorming with Dabbleboard

Step 1. If you want to do more than just write text documents that you can share with others, dabbleboard.com offers some graphically rich collaboration methods. Click Get Started, then look for the Start icon at the top left of the following screen. Click this, then choose New drawing to begin.

Dabbleboard 1

Step 2. Use the mouse to draw shapes onscreen. Dabbleboard does its best to recognise your doodles and turn them into regular squares and triangles. Click a shape and drag its four corner icons to resize it, copy it and move it around the screen. A pop-up toolbox also lets you rotate the shape.

Dabbleboard 2

Step 3. Click anywhere to bring up a text box that you can simply start typing into. You can copy, move and delete text, and you can add symbols and apply basic formatting by clicking to select a text box. You can also put text into boxes, or connect text boxes with arrows.

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Step 4. You’ll need to sign up if you want take advantage of all of Dabbleboard’s features. These include multiuser groups that let you share access to an unlimited number of whiteboard projects. With the free account you can still share drawings with other people and download SVG image files of your drawing.

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Step 5. Even without signing up you can chat with other people about a drawing by inviting them to join a chat session by email. This allows you a measure of collaborative working if you simply want to test the system before signing up for an account. Click the Invite Others box to the right of the screen.

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Step 6. Other tricks you can try using the free account include importing documents and photos. These appear on the whiteboard as images that can be drawn over - we’ve added an editable caption box. To do the same, find and click the appropriate icon on the toolbar at the top of the screen.

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>> Next page: Sharing documents with Writeboard

Sharing documents with Writeboard

Step 1. Writeboard is ideal for collaborating on text documents. Head to writeboard.com and create a document. Fill in the three fields on the home page with a name for your writeboard, a password to access it and your email address. Click to agree to the terms, then ‘Create the Writeboard’.

Writeboard 1

Step 2. Now you can get started with creating your document. Writeboard is based around text, and you simply type into the large white box shown onscreen. You might want to start by outlining a document, adding in specific questions for other people, or you could take another approach that suits you.

Writeboard 2

Step 3. Writeboard offers a few basic formatting features, which you can apply by inserting special codes into the text. To make a chunk of text bold, for example, bookend it with * characters. The formatting will be visible after you click Save. Click the formatting guide link to the right of the screen to see other codes you can use.

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Step 4. Enter your name below the document so other people will know who was the last person to add to or amend the document. Don’t forget to save the writeboard - click ‘Save this writeboard’ below the document. When you make subsequent edits, you’ll instead need to choose ‘Save as the newest version’.

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Step 5. You can now invite other people to collaborate with you on the document. Click Invite people at the top right of the screen, then fill in the form with their email address and your name. Click Send invitation. The recipient will get an email containing a link to the writeboard and a password with which to access it.

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Step 6. Others can add comments to the end of a document that are readable by anyone with access to it. They can also click ‘Edit this page’ at the top of the screen and add their comments to the main body of the document. They must remember to click ‘Save as the newest version’ when they have finished.

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Step 7. The revision history of a document is visible in the right panel. Click on any version of the document to view it. If you decide to stick with an older one, simply click ‘Revert to this version’. You can compare two versions by selecting them and clicking ‘Compare’. Any changes are highlighted onscreen.

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Step 8. If you want to export a document created in Writeboard so that you can then edit it in a word processor or add it to a website, click the Export button at the top of the screen. Writeboard offers you two versions of the file to download: a text version and an HTML document. Simply click your preferred version.

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