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The 20 best online collaboration tools

Inexpensive tools that can help your team work together

Today, workforces are increasingly dispersed, with remote workers, offshore contractors and global partnerships. However, this makes the job of co-ordinating your team's work harder than ever. We look at the 20 best tools for online collaboration.

Brainstorming and mind mapping

Ideas are the lifeblood of any business, and the brainstorming session has rightfully become a mainstay of the business world.

Being able to bounce ideas off other employees and to build on one another's thoughts can unleash incredible creativity, making a team truly more than the sum of its parts.

Traditional brainstorming revolves around the whiteboard, with a facilitator writing down each idea as it emerges.

Online whiteboards offer the same kind of free-form discussion and idea capture, usually coupled with chat or voice conferencing.

Mind mapping is also proving to be a popular brainstorming tool.

Mind maps employ free association to spin off ideas around a central concept, using a branch-and-leaf structure to clump related ideas together.

This reveals relationships and structures as they emerge from the flow of ideas, often leading to new ideas that might not have come up otherwise.

Writeboard

Brought to you by 37signals, the maker of the popular Basecamp project management tool and creator of the open-source web framework Rails, Writeboard is a free, no-frills, text-only blank space where you can record ideas. Collaboration doesn't come any simpler than this.

Choose a name for your board, select a password, enter an email address, and you're ready to go - no further registration required.

To invite others to view the board or add comments, just enter their email addresses and click the "Send invitation" button.

Writeboard provides few options, but it's great for capturing and fleshing out ideas on the fly.

You can type in ideas, move them around and distinguish them with simple text formatting such as headers and numbered lists.

Automatic revision-tracking lets you go back and recover anything that might have gotten lost in the shuffle.

Show Document Shared Whiteboard

HBRLabs' Show Document is a collection of free collaboration tools for web meetings.

Its Shared Whiteboard app provides a much more feature-rich environment than Writeboard, with an integrated chat room and tools for basic drawing and highlighting.

Intended for spontaneous brainstorming, whiteboards created on Show Document are not saved, but users can export them to PDF.

Twiddla

For intensely visual brainstorming, Twiddla offers a full range of drawing tools, as well as the ability to upload images to your whiteboard.

Integrated voice chat and media sharing let you add and annotate images, documents or even web sites while carrying on a conversation.

The basic service is free, while paid professional accounts (starting at $14 (£9.59) per month) allow you to save and share finished whiteboards and use SSL encryption for added security.

Bubbl.us

Bubbl offers free and simple, but stylish, mind mapping.

Mind maps can be started instantly from the home page, and you can register to save your mind maps for future use.

MindMeister and Spinscape

These two mind-mapping services offer real-time collaboration, mind-map storage and sharing, file attachments and other perks such as offline map creation and editing, customisable user permissions, iPhone access and SSL encryption.

Both offer limited free versions, but you'll need to sign up for the premium or business plan to get all the bells and whistles.

Spinscape Premium is $9.99 (£6.80) per month; MeisterLabs' MindMeister Business is $9 (£6.20) per user per month.

NEXT PAGE: Document creation, review and annotation

  1. These inexpensive tools can help your team work together
  2. Tools for brain storming and mind mapping
  3. Document creation, review and annotation
  4. More tools for document creation, review and annotation
  5. Project planning and co-ordination
  6. Staying connected
  7. Google Wave: The next wave in collaboration?


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