Here’s a great video tutorial from lynda.com showing how you can use Dropbox to collaborate using shared folders. The document example shown here is using Word’s review and annotation tools as the two collaborators work on that document.
Genealogy societies, local civic and social groups and friends of the library often need to coordinate projects, events or publication reviews among a team or committee. The most common way of doing this is by email, but as team members respond with their changes, suggestions and ideas, things can get confusing quickly. Has this change been approved? Is that task completed yet? Which draft is the most current? And, if you’ve been out of the loop for a few days, catching up can be a nightmare.
There’s got to be a better way!
Posterous supports a group space capability in addition to its blog site. Using Posterous Groups, you can turn a round-robin email nightmare into an online conversation and project management becomes a whole lot easier. All team members are invited to become members of the group. When one has something to say to the team, she sends an email message to the group’s address (firstname.lastname@example.org in this example). That message becomes a discussion topic and is listed in the left column. When a member clicks on a topic, the contents of the conversation appears in the right column.
In this example, the Spring Newsletter topic currently has two messages – the initial message and the first reply. As team members reply to the message, their notes appear here in the order they are received. In addition, each team member gets a copy delivered to their Inbox. Any team member can become part of the conversation by replying to a message or by visiting the site and clicking the reply icon at the top of the message you want to reply to. Any links, photos or attachments included in the email message are also accessible at the group site.
If you’ve been away and want to catch up quickly, instead of wading through all the email traffic, stop by the group site and scan through the conversations for each topic.
Creating a Posterous group is easy. All you do is send an email to email@example.com. Put the name for your group in the subject line of your message and add one or more email addresses of group members in the body of your message. Posterous will send you an immediate reply with a link to finish the set up. Follow the link and you’ll see a screen similar to this where you fill in the needed information, then click the Create Group button.
Next you will be taken to the People screen where you can add more team members and define who can contribute to the group conversation (Contributors) and who will only read the conversation (Subscribers). You can also choose how they will receive their messages – instantly or as a daily digest. Note that members can change this from their profile page.
With the group created, your first message should brief members on the group’s purpose and how it will be used to support the team. Ask them to reply with their feedback and ideas on how to use the group. This gives them the opportunity to start a conversation and see for themselves what the group’s all about.
Note that subscribers and contributors do not have to become Posterous members to participate in the group. However, contributors who are not members will not be able to post or reply to topics using the web-based editor and, if the group is set as a private group, only Posterous members can see the group site. You will need to set your site as public-read only to allow non-members to see the group content online.
It won’t take long for all members to get comfortable with the group platform. It might require a few gentle nudges to team members unfamiliar with online collaboration, but the benefits will become obvious very quickly. If you’d like to learn more, the Groups Help section at Posterous has all the answers.
Combine function with free and easy and you have a great collaboration tool. That’s Posterous Groups.
Can you imagine research without notes? Neither can I.
Taking notes is as personal as it is imperative. We all have our own style and habits which impact how we take and organize our research notes. I was taught to take notes using index cards with one card for each bit of information I uncovered – along with its source. That format suited me well in my analog youth, allowing me to rearrange my notes both for analysis and to organize my thoughts when I was ready to start writing.
The digital world has made note-taking a lot easier. Just about every computer and tablet sold today includes some kind or notes application. And, as users discovered the advantages of storing content online for access from just about anywhere, a new type of notes management system developed. It is called Evernote. Evernote is an amazing platform that makes it easy to capture and organize all kinds of information. With Evernote, you create an online account which becomes your notes archive. You then install the Evernote application for your computer. When you add a note using your desktop app, it’s automatically synched with your online archive. That’s just the beginning. There are also apps for your smart phone and your tablet . A note added to one of these devices is automatically synched to all of them. This means you can have your notes within easy reach wherever you go.
Evernote has few limitations on the types of notes you can create. Notes can include text, photos and attached documents. You can capture all or part of a web page and save it to Evernote. Got a microphone or headset attached to your desktop or mobile device? You can record an audio note and include it in your Evernote collection. You can even email notes, images and documents to your Evernote account. The Evernote Web Clipper can be installed in most web browsers, giving you one-click clipping for all or part of a web page.
Creating and capturing notes are one thing. Finding them when you need them can also be a challenge. Evernote has some amazing organizational features too. Notes and clippings are organized into notebooks and you can add tags (keywords) to your notes to provide additional search parameters. Evernote’s search function can find words within a scanned document or graphic image – and can even read some handwritten notes. Common searches can be saved and new notes matching the saved search criteria will automatically be included in that saved search group.
We’re still not finished. You’ll find Evernote has some amazing collaborative tools too. You can share notebooks with others – either specific individuals or the general public. This can be used to share notes with research cousins, organize family events or manage projects.
Evernote offers both a free and premium service. With the basic service there is a limit to the number of notes you can upload each month as well as a 25MB size limit for each note. The premium service [$5.00/mo or $45.00/yr] gives you more upload volume, larger note size, more collaboration and more security. It also allows you to take your notebooks offline so you can access your research information even when you aren’t connected to the Internet. While both services can share notebooks with others, only a premium account can set up an editable shared notebook (where invited collaborators can add/edit notes within the notebook). Note that only the user hosting the shared folder needs a premium account – basic accounts can access and edit within that account.
If you are looking for a notes management system that adjusts to your work style instead of forcing you to conform to theirs, take a look at Evernote. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
It’s amazingly easy to get started with Evernote, but to take advantages of all its capabilities you’ll need a guide such as Katherine Murray’s My Evernote.
Miriam’s having a problem finding a chat service to support Scanfest. It seems all the existing web-based platforms have either started charging for their services or they’ve been scooped up to become a component in Facebook or Google + or whatever. Does that mean we’re out of affordable options? I don’t think so.
One very easy solution is WordPress.com. There’s a delicious theme called P2 that will turn a WordPress blog into a simple collaboration platform.
The P2 theme was originally designed by the folks at Automattic, the people who created WordPress, to be used as an in-house collaborative tool. As you can see, it falls somewhere between Twitter and Facebook for handling conversations. I love the way new comments are highlighted. One of my pet peeves with Facebook is that while it does a great job notifying you that there are new responses in a conversation thread, you often still have to wade through a lot of older responses to find them. P2 makes it much easier. And then there’s the tag system for quickly moving between conversations.
A P2 site could make a great permanent home for online events like Scanfest. It could also be set up as a private social center for families or genealogy societies. Best of all, it could be a great collaboration site for teams working on publication projects like a society newsletter, a group blog or a quarterly journal. In P2, publication schedules could be posted, possible topics discussed and even used to post articles for peer review.
While P2 can be used on both WordPress.com sites and self-hosted WordPress sites, for an event like Scanfest, using WordPress.com may be the best bet. A growing number of people are already WordPress.com users and can use their existing login to participate. And, if families, societies and project teams take advantage of P2′s capabilities for their own purposes, that single WordPress.com account world provide access to any number of sites or projects.
To create a WordPress.com blog, visit the Sign Up page and complete the simple form. If all you want is to create a WordPress.com user account, you’ll find a link for that on the Sign Up page too. Instructions for setting up P2 to create a collaboration site can be found at TheNextWeb.
At work, I’ve found instant messaging a much simpler way to work with a group of people than either email or the phone. I create a private chat room and invite my co-workers. Once set up, it’s an on-going conversation right at our fingertips.
Have you finished those updates?
They’ll be done before lunch.
We’re pushing patches this weekend.
Have you fixed the style sheet yet?
Does that look okay?Perfect!
How do I . . .
Our IM system is pretty primitive compared to Skype. I can’t share files, let alone share my screen. Even so, it’s still a more relaxed, yet quite productive way to work together across distances. The chat window stays open all day and messages flow as needed. On my desktop it sits at the bottom corner of my screen so it’s always visible. I don’t have to stop and check my email just to see if something’s happening. And, I don’t have a collection of email messages to dispose of either.
At home I’m buried in round-robin emails from this group or that association trying to get work done. Often it takes days for decisions to get made because the email conversation frequently dies when it gets lost in someone’s inbox. Think how much easier it would be if the question was put out via Skype text message and the conversation was in real time? With Skype available on most mobile devices, it’s easy to connect no matter where you are. Instead of trying to get everyone at the same physical location at the same time (The scheduling alone can take more time and effort than the meeting itself.), how about a Skype workshop? It works more like an open house where you set the available time period and people wander in and out as their schedule permits. Announce the workshop ahead of time with agenda and expected results.
Here’s how to start your workshop in Skype:
- Once logged in, select File > New Conversation then click the Add People button and start selecting the people you want to attend your workshop.
- Once you’ve selected the participants, type and send your first message. It will be sent to everyone you invited to the workshop.
- Begin the workshop by presenting the agenda and either forwarding any related documents or, better yet, linking to them at your favorite doc-sharing location. All of the conversation appears in the message log so anyone arriving later can quickly catch up.
- Each individual checks in, performs their required task(s) and reports via text message.
- If a vote is necessary, post the motion, give everyone an opportunity to comment, then ask them to post their vote.
The workshop won’t interfere with any other Skype conversations going on at the same time. You can have separate chat windows to text with others and even pop in/out of voice or video calls too. Any workshop attendee can have a private conversation – text, voice or video – just by clicking on a contact and starting a new session.
If your workshop will be a recurring event, you can save it by right-clicking on the icon in the sidebar and choosing Add to Favorites. You can also rename it by right-clicking on it in the sidebar, choosing Set Topic . . . and entering your new name (Board Meeting in the above example). The next time you want to have a workshop, just click on the item in your sidebar and type your first message.
You can also use the chat history as a record of your workshop’s accomplishment. Check your Skype Preferences to set how long your chat history is kept. Unfortunately, there’s no longer a facility to export that history, but you can have your preferences set to keep your history forever and you can copy/paste specific chat text to a text editor. There are Skype plugins available for recording voice and video calls.
Skype offers many easy and affordable ways to work together. And, thanks to the growing number of systems and devices that are Skype-enabled, you don’t have to “be there” to participate. Starting with a group text chat as the foundation of your workshop, members can take advantage of voice, video, file sharing and even screen sharing to accomplish the goal. Start small – maybe with a workshop just to experiment with Skype – and let your members get comfortable with the various features. You’ll find it quickly becomes second nature to have multiple text conversations going on with a voice conversation on the side. As the comfort zone increases, so does you potential for getting work done online.
Dropbox, the file synching service, supports collaboration through its shared folders feature. When you are working with other Dropbox users on a research or writing project, this can be quite useful. Here’s how it works.
Setting up a shared folder is easy. It can be done through the Web interface or through the virtual drive in your desktop’s file system.
Here you see my folders displayed via the Web interface. To the right of each folder is a drop-down menu and you’ll notice the Shared folder options item.
When you select that option you will be presented with this information pane. Here you can enter email addresses for the people you want to access this folder and add a short message that will be delivered with the invitation. Notice at the top of this pane is a second option called Members. In this case, I already have three people (I’m one of them) sharing this folder. If I click on that link I can see who they are and remove them if I wish.
Once a person accepts my invitation to share this folder, the folder will appear in their Dropbox account/virtual drive and they have rights to add, update and delete files within the folder.
This example shows how to share a folder from within the Dropbox virtual drive on my Mac desktop. Either CMD+click or right-click the folder and choose the Dropbox > Share This Folder . . . command. The rest of the process will be similar to the Web version.
Notice the folder icons in my folders list. My shared folders have a buddy icon on the folder while unshared ones are plain. There is also an icon identifying the public folders (aptly named Public and Photos).
Some important notes regarding shared folders. As I mentioned, any of your shared users can add, edit and delete files within the folder. They can also invite additional users to the share, however only the folder’s creator can remove users. When two people open the same file to edit, Dropbox will NOT try to merge those edits. Instead, it will save two separate copies of that file.
Dropbox is a very efficient and cost-effective way to share files with others. Take a look for yourself. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.
Virtual meetings just got a whole lot easier with the introduction of join.me. This platform is delightfully easy to initiate or attend an online meeting and there’s both a free and pro service. Both offer screen sharing, file transfer, chat and a conference call number for up to 250 participants. The pro service adds a persistent meeting room, scheduling and access control. Pro users can include others in the account so they can be presenters too.
Presenters will need to download a small app [Win and Mac] to initiate and manage meetings. There’s no grand interface, just this small gadget on your desktop. Send or publish the link you see in the box to invite others to your meeting. All they do is paste the link in their browser and up pops your screen. They see a similar widget. Click on the chat button, type a message and a small chat window pops up on your viewers’ screens displaying that message. They can respond via the chat window. The phone icon displays a conference call number you can use to share the audio with your attendees. The people icon displays the people in the meeting. If one of them is being disruptive, you can easily remove him. You can use the mouse icon to share control. A look at the attendees list shows a mouse next to the person who currently has control.
join.me uses Flash to run the online meeting. Attendees can have a meeting open in their browser and still browse the web in other tabs or work on other applications. My guess is this means you could also use Skype for your audio but we would have to experiment to see if there would be bandwidth issues affecting performance. iOS devices can install the free join.me app to attend join.me meetings but they cannot initiate or control a meeting.
The pro version costs $29/month or $299/year and if the performance is on par with its simplicity, it could make a great tool for vendor demonstrations, tech support and small meetings or workshops. The free version definitely has great potential for quick online get togethers, discussions or meetings. The more sophisticated meeting platforms are better suited for more formal webinars and presentations, but join.me is perfect for on-the-fly situations because it is just too easy to use.
Try it and see for yourself.
Recently I wrote that genealogical and historical societies could benefit from the growing number of members who are publishing on their own by offering a peer review service. Yes, it will provide benefits for both the society and the member, but how do you manage the logistics to make it happen?
WordPress.com, the online blogging service, recently released a custom theme that gives the blog a Facebook feel and provides a delightfully simple platform for collaborative conversation – perfect for online document reviews.
While this example – with only one user (me) – isn’t the best, it does show how the conversation appears on the site. The writer submits the manuscript and provides a link to it in the initial entry. Reviewers reply to that entry with their comments. The writer and all the reviewers can see the entire conversation – a huge advantage over round-robin emails – reducing the duplication of effort and the chaos of trying to keep up with changes coming from all directions.
WordPress.com offers a widget to the Meebo instant messaging system which I’ve placed in the sidebar of my site. Writers and reviewers can take advantage of tools like this and carry on live text conversations to hash out the fine points of the review. And, since WordPress.com only supports media (images, audio and video) uploads, this could also be a good way to distribute the manuscript files to the reviewers.
This example uses a free WordPress.com blog and the P2 theme. It’s the theme that gives the blog its collaborative capabilities. This collaboration site can be set up in minutes. Since it costs you nothing, grab a couple of volunteers to experiment with its capabilities to see how it fits into your routine. Starting slow with a few of your more tech-savy contributors will help you develop a system that works for everyone. An instruction sheet containing site instructions and review procedures can be distributed to new contributors as they become part of the peer review program.
The P2/WordPress.com option is not the only way to perform online document reviews, but it is a simple and inexpensive one. It is a great way to introduce your members to online collaboration and once they are comfortable here, then it will be easier to move to more sophisticated systems.
We all know that WordPress is a great blog platform, but collaboration too? You bet! Building a private site on WordPress.com and installing the P2 theme gives you a delightful platform for managing a society newsletter, organizing an event, writing project or just providing family members a private social network. It’s easy to build and costs you nothing.
The P2 theme presents the blog’s content in a sort of enhanced Twitter style with posting right on the page. There are status update, blog post, quotation and link entry types – all of which include commenting to create conversation threads. Team members can subscribe to the blog’s feed and have updates delivered to their newsreader. Unlike round-robin emails, each “conversation” is presented in the order it happened so a quick glance will bring any team member up-to-date. Add the Meebo widget to the blog and you have a realtime chat room in the site’s sidebar. The box.net widget lets you upload files to your box.net account [1GB storage free] and make them available on the blog. If you need to select event flyers or peer-review a newsletter article, this is a great way to do it.
The site administrator controls each team member’s access level. For example, a user with editor rights can edit and delete any content item on the site. Users with contributor rights can only work on their own content. Everyone can reply to any post.
Over at The Next Web, they’ve got complete step-by-step instructions on how to build your own collaboration site at no cost in less that 5 minutes. It’s definitely worth a look.
If you have more than one computer in your life, you need Dropbox. This is a quick and easy way to share files between computers and mobile devices. A free account gives you 2GB of storage along with software for Windows, Mac, Linux and a growing number of mobile devices. Once installed on your computer, it creates a special Dropbox folder in your file system. All you do is drag a file to that folder and it is uploaded to your online Dropbox account, making it almost instantly available at any of your other Dropbox devices. Just click on the Dropbox folder or app at the other end to find and download your file. This is a whole lot easier than emailing files to yourself or running back and forth between computers with a thumbdrive.
Some enterprising software developers have incorporated Dropbox functionality in their applications. One good example is the GoodReader app for the iPad. It’s a whole lot easier to move a book or large PDF to the reader with the app’s Dropbox connection than to first import the book into iTunes and then sync it with the iPad. [Yes, there is a Dropbox client for the iPad, but this way is even faster.]
While these are reasons enough to sign up, this is just the beginning of what you can do with Dropbox.
Dropbox’s shared folders capability provides a simple way for members to collaborate with others. First, one Dropbox member creates a shared folder within her account and adds the email addresses of the members with whom she wants to share the folder. The email invitation includes a link to accept the shared folder invitation. Once the invitees accept, that shared folder then appears in their Dropbox. Now, when a file is added to that folder it appears in every members’ folder too. Should one member open, change and save the file back to their shared folder, it will replace the original.
Shared folders could be an easy way to organize peer group reviews of documents, submit articles and/or photos to family newsletters, share files too large to email or any number of other handy uses. And, if 2GB isn’t enough storage, Dropbox offers several levels of paid plans too.
Dropbox provides a simple, yet extremely useful service and only your imagination limits its potential. Try it out and see what it can do for you.