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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.

Document creation, review and annotation

Online tools to help you collaborate on documents and presentations have evolved drastically in the past several years, making it easy for you and your partners to work side by side, even with half the globe between you.

For documents that evolve over time with new information, wikis are incredibly useful.

Simple editing tools let you and other team members add new information, and automatic revision tracking makes it easy to roll back to previous versions.

For more advanced tasks, online word processors, spreadsheets and presentation tools make creating traditional office documents collaboratively as easy as using Microsoft Office.

It's even possible for several people to work on a single document at the same time.

Finally, if you're less concerned with letting others create, edit or add to documents and more concerned with making it easy for several people to review and comment on materials, a reviewing service such as TextFlow or ReviewBasics might be a better option than a wiki or online office suite.

Wikidot and Wikispaces

There are hundreds of hosted wiki services available; two of my favourites are Wikidot and Tangient's Wikispaces.

Wikidot's WYSIWYG interface makes editing a breeze even for nontechnical users, while Wikispaces' ability to export HTML pages and PDFs makes it well suited to generating documentation for wide distribution.

Both offer basic free (ad-supported) hosted wikis as well as affordable premium plans - from $50 (£34) a year - with features such as invitation-only access, custom themes, file hosting and the ability to map your own domain name to your wiki.

Google Docs, Zoho and Adobe Acrobat.com

These free online office suites are among the most fully developed web applications out there, featuring full-fledged word processors, presentation editors and spreadsheets that support Microsoft Office formats.

The Acrobat.com Tables app combines some functions of both a spreadsheet and a database.

Each service makes it easy to invite others to participate and grant them permission to edit, comment on and/or review the documents you've shared with them.

All three of these services allow real-time collaboration in word processing documents and spreadsheets so that multiple people can edit a file simultaneously.

In Google's services, colour-coded cursors or spreadsheet cells indicate who is working on what.

Zoho locks the paragraph or cell each person is on so that changes don't overlap.

Google Docs and Zoho both offer an integrated chat 'sidebar' so you can converse with your collaborators while you work.

Acrobat.com has the weakest real-time capabilities.

In Buzzword, the word processor, the whole document is locked until the editing collaborator saves his or her changes, while Tables allows multiple people to work in the same cell but keeps only the changes made by the person with the highest permissions level (the document's 'author').

Further, users cannot chat in the interface where they're editing, though a ConnectNow conference in a separate tab might be adequate.

None of these suites allows real-time editing of presentations, though multiple people can view a presentation at the same time while one person edits it.

Zoho offers a wide variety of productivity and business tools beyond the Big Three office apps, as does Google under its Google Apps service.

It's worth noting that Microsoft has released its online office suite, called Office Web Apps, this week, but it's too soon to tell how polished its collaboration features are.

NEXT PAGE: More tools for 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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