Sunday, 20 February 2011

4 Ways to Collaborate Online on Group Documents



One of the great things about writing group documents today, as opposed to writing group documents 5 years ago is the advent of online "colloborative editing environments". Instead of sending files back and forth through email, here are few services you can take advantage of to make collaboration with your team on written documents much easier.
1. Google Docs
If you haven't heard of Google Docs yet, then you've probably been living under a rock for the last few years. But if you have heard of google docs and still resort to using email to send files back and forth, then you should really think about using a better system. Simply create a document on Google docs and share it with all your friends. 

Some great features that Google Docs offers are:
  1. True colloborative editing - Multiple people can edit the file at the same time
  2. Version control - You can view multiple versions of the document
  3. Works for Word, PowerPoint and Excel documents, but doesn't really support things like captions, references and so on.
  4. No registration required if you make the document public.
Some disadvantages:
  1. No support for editing documents offline
  2. Support for .docx/.xlsx/.pptx files is sketchy and features such as table of contents, captions and bibliographies are not available
  3. Doesn't have as many features as Microsoft Office, or even iWork and some other competitors like SlideRocket

2. Microsoft Office Live Sky Drive

This alternative is great if you are planning on using Microsoft Word to write up your report or document. While Sky Drive acts as a great way to store you're documents to avoid emailing it every time there is an update, it doesn't work so well for collaborating in real time.
Advantages:

  1. Can upload .docx type newer file formats, and save features such as references, table captions and so on.
  2. Can do some basic editing in browser, but open it up in Word/Excel/PowerPoint to do more editing
  3. Supports versioning and ability to share files
Disadvantages:
  1. Need to have a windows live account to use the service
  2. Can't edit the document at the same time. In fact, only one person can edit the document at the same time, so if one of your team members have the document open, you'll have to tell them to close the document.
3. Git
While Git is really meant for programmers, I think that it works great if you plan on using it to keep track of text based documents like LaTeX documents or plain old text files. While getting used to Git may take a while as it is built mostly for programmers who deal with tons of code and like to stare at terminal windows, it should provide a great way of keeping track of progress and merging changes to text based documents.

4. Dropbox

While Dropbox may not be the best alternative if a lot of editing is required, it can be a great way to share files between teams as long as only one person works on the file at one time. If two people upload changes to the same file, Dropbox will just create two versions of the file, which will then have to be merged manually. Nevertheless, Dropbox has some great versioning features, is easy to use and provides quite a bit of storage for free. Plus, it's great for sharing files that won't be edited like pictures and videos, and syncs with the latest versions of the folders automatically instead of you having to get the content yourself.




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