Collaborative platforms

Researchers in Europe would definitely benefit from including in their work routines some online collaborative tools. In this post I intend to present some of the collaborative platforms that allow sharing and live working on documents I have discovered during the past months. They are Google Docs, visit Socialtext, anaemia ColaabOneHub and Scribblar.

Google DocsOut of all the platforms above I am most familiar with GoogleDocs. Their interface is easy to use, has an auto-saver and supports the regular formats with which researchers work: spreadsheets, presentations, word documents. It does require a Google account but once created that account offers access to many more Google resources. Collaboration can take place in real-time due to the embedded chat and users can change and amend documents if given permission by the one who uploaded them. I haven’t figured out yet whether there is a “track changes” function in Google Docs but I believe such a feature would be useful both when users deal with lengthy documents as well as when there is a large number of users with permission to make changes. Also, for those into photo/video collaboration Google Docs does not yet offer any support. For more features check their page.

For academic purposes, Google Docs is a good solution: is free, allows protection of documents, replicates functionalities of traditional software and allows real-time conversations. A short video on how it works can be found on YouTube.

scribblarReal-time multi-user whiteboard, image upload and download, live audio and instant messaging are features offered by Scribblar as well. For those in a hurry Scribblar offers the opportunity of using the platform straight away without any ID with, of course, some restrictions on the features available. Creating an account however is free and doesn’t take long. Scribblar also offers a pro version which can be integrated in e-learning sites.

Picture 6 Colaab supports a variety of resources formats, as they call them: from doc and docx (the vista word version) , powerpoint and pdf to images (png, jpg, gif,psd), videos and xps. The platform allows a user to have multiple projects and share them with multiple users. There are notification when users log into the platform as well as their a track changes log which makes it easy to see who, when and where within a project added a comment or an annotation. The advantage of Colaab, as I see it,  lies within its video and photo collaboration opportunities as it enables, among others, quick zoom into large files.  Colaab therefore can be a great platform for arts and creative media schools. In terms of access, Colaab has 4 packages ranging from 0 to 99 USD a month. You can sign up for a 30-day trial as well. To take a tour of the platform and check its other features go here.

onehub OneHub is similar with Colaab in that that is allows users to work on multiple projects, or spaces but the platform is richer in features. Unlike Colaab, OneHub is designed as an enterprise solution and therefore focuses more on offering tools that can support project management and file sharing besides collaboration. OneHub has, for example, a calendar function that enables users to keep track of their projects and deadlines. It also has a hub activity log where the other users actions can be followed (Colaab offers this as well). The platform also supports folder sharing, hub search and has a lot of customization options which might be useful for joint projects or for projects where universities outsource their services to for-profit companies. There is a 30-day trial but no free account possibility. Take a tour of OneHub here.

Picture 4 Socialtext describes itself as a social software platform than can work both as a hosted or as an on-site service. The platform seems much more complex than all the previous ones described promising to offer different solution packages for specific business functions. Socialtext 3.0 extends collaboration to its maximum – there is a dashboard, wiki workspaces, blogs, opportunities for social networking and messaging as well as distributed spreadsheets (this allows spreadsheets to be dynamic by allowing data to be easily interlinked). Furthermore Socialtext is available offline as well as from a mobile device. As with the other platforms there is a 30-day trial but also a free account version that can accommodate up to 50 users with, of course, some restrictions – there is only 1 wiki space available, there are no distributed spreadsheets included in the package and there is no service or support from the Socialtext team. A product demo can be seen here.

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9 thoughts on “Collaborative platforms

  1. Nice overview. I prefer Google Docs as well, just for the reason that it’s free and a lot of people got a Google-ID anyway. Not to forget the collaborativ functions of Google Calendar. To track changes there shall be a RSS option somewhere, but I never tried. Only thing I miss are shared Contacts and a way to bring calendar, docs etc somehow together…
    But I discovered today a broader attempt based on cloud computing. The new (beta) service G.ho.st gives you a whole virtual computer with different applications and 15GB Storage inside a browser window. (ok, I got only 3 GB Storage, don’t know why).
    There you can share nearly everything directly, but you can connect it (somehow) with google docs too.
    Just have a look and tell me what you think!
    The URL is simply http://g.ho.st

  2. I agree. I am most familiar with Google Docs and like the integration opportunities they offer. I haven’t heard of the G.ho.st service but I will definitely take a look. I wonder though whether there are any restrictions on what content you can save on their servers as well as what their privacy policy is. Thanks for the tip and the comment!

  3. Found the real track changes function in google docs: it’s in the ‘file’ menu called “revisions history”. It shows who changed when + what and offers a way to compare different versions.

    best regards,

    hendrik

  4. That’s great news. This makes collaborative projects, especially the text-based ones, much easier to cope with. I wonder whether the launch of Google Wave would influence in any way the way the Google Docs platform works currently.

  5. Great review, Ana!

    I’m completely reliant on google docs these days. Working between different computers and different places – it’s great to know whatever computer I am using, my document is available to me. Also, when I’ve been working on projects with others, it’s the easiest way to get things done without having to meet in person. A down side, it makes it all too easy to set up a doc every time you have an idea for a project, then it lies dormant unless you work on motivating each other to get it finished (same as life unfortunately ;-))

    In terms of Friendfeed (we were discussing briefly about on Twitter) It’s a completely different ball game. I guess it sits more along the lines of twitter (aggregating content from other sites) but the good thing about it the way it can be expanded on with different points.

    For example, I was at a conference where only few were using twitter. I embedded a iframe with my friendfeed comment as a starting point. From that, people who visited the comments (from either my blog or from friendfeed page) could add their own comments to the stream. It began a very useful and collaborative platform for live blogging (and reduced irrelevant noise to twitter stream – not everyone who follows me is interested in niche events) but the ones that where could visit my blog and add their comments there instead.

    Friendfeed has many downsides – but it is open and can be used for very adhoc collaborations. It’s not something like the above tools – it’s public, it’s noisy and you have to proactively filter the content to get some value (embedding in a blog works – so does linking to individual posts through twitter or facebook) Personally, I have my reservations about recommending it (because I’m not sure it knows what it is either!) – but it does have (temporary) place where other tools just might not do!

  6. Oh, I missed the announcement of Google wave completely. Interesting question! I’m not sure if they will simply integrate G-docs in G-wave, but I think G-Wave comes with a whole new interface for everything and the rest. My first thought was, it would make the old google docs obsolete. That’s because, I assume, the only reasons to use google docs are collaborative projects and to small and weak computers, like some phones etc. On every other computer I would always prefer to edit any doc on an installed software like MS or Open Office and only to store and share it on the google docs server. I’m quite happy that the new ghost system is able to actually control the installed MS Office exactly this way.

    But having the collaborative work better done on G-wave, there a fewer reasons to use G-docs… except the one new: People might simply not be willing to submerge into this high complex and lifetime consuming G-wave thing and prefer a more straight and less integrated way to get things done.

    But these are just assumtions. Do You know any userstats of G-docs by now?

    By the way: Did you recon that G-Wave was invented by a Lars and the presentation of G-Wave Messaging was done around a blog called “the Adventures of Lars”?

  7. The only info on Google Docs stats I have is from here, a post that might be considered by some obsolete if taken into account the speed with which things have been changing online lately: http://blog.compete.com/2007/12/06/google-docs-spreadsheets/. However, the post still highlights some interesting things.

    As for Google-Wave vs Google Docs I think we’ll just have to wait and see. Google Wave brings the real web and with it the possibility of moving from web 2.0 to 3.0 (I for one think we are at web 2.5 right now). However bringing email, chat and sharing into one discussion flow doesn’t necessarily mean that collaborating on documents will be embedded within Wave.

    Send/embed the video demo for the Wave messaging if you have it.

  8. Thanks for the link, impressive already. Think I underestimated the impact it already has.

    Google has a video from it’s presentation of Wave at the Google I/O 2009 under this link: http://wave.google.com/

    One word to Web 3.0: I know, that for a lot of us to work and to communicate are the same. But viewing the Wave presentation I got the feeling that everything is happening there so realtime and somehow urgent right in front of your eyes that I would get serious problems to stay focused on the text to write or the paper to read.

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