You've probably heard about a hard-to-get hugely new service called Google Wave. Lest ye forget, there are plenty of web-based collaboration tools that don't require learning a new way of speaking. Here are a few of our (mostly free) favourites.
Photo by woodleywonderworks.
This email-organising service is openly pitching itself to those left out of the first round of Wave preview accounts, and not entirely without reason. It doesn't do half the things that Wave claims to do, but it does free your coworkers from having to read through freakishly long "RE: FWD: FWD:" letters just to understand what the original question or discussion was. Add CC:Betty to your cc: list on a topic you want to get started, and the webapp does the work of organising each person's contributions, different attachment types, chronology and who's been left out of the chain. Even if everybody doesn't bother to check in at the Betty page for the discussion, the person trying to make sense of it all will be glad they can do so. (Original post)
It is, of course, the software that powers Wikipedia, and might seem a bit dated in the light-speed-paced world of webapps. Still, MediaWiki's power lies in how easy it is for multiple people to make and commit changes to a document, link inside and out of other pages, create page structures and hierarchies on the fly, and work from pretty much any browser on Earth. Nobody needs to sign into any account unless mandated by the administrator, and everybody gets the information they need without having to fiddle any knobs.
This meeting facilitator aims to eliminate the mess of emails and mass confusion over whether it was meeting room 130 at 2pm, or room 230 at 1pm. Create an account, plug in your coworkers' emails or SMS numbers, plug in a few times that work for you, and TimeBridge takes on the work of contacting them all and asking which of those times work, then presenting the results for your consideration. The webapp also reminds participants of the details by email or SMS, and a just-released iPhone app helps you keep things moving along with an agenda and details view. (Original post)
"Isn't that the thing that Google turned Usenet into?" Yes, but Groups lets a, um, group of like-minded folks hash out arguments, answer questions, and point to helpful resources without software or constraints. Users of a group can rate posts for helpfulness, search out answers across their own groups or other similar-themed topics, and get their answers and responses delivered from an easily filtered email source. It's an oft-overlooked tool in an age of fancy-pants social tools, but it gets everyone hooked up and talking pretty quickly.
It's easy to ask everyone's take on a piece of text, but much harder to actually incorporate their ideas, revisions and word choices without spending twice as much time as on the original. TextFlow, a free Adobe Air app that runs on Windows, Mac or Linux, takes in all the documents spawned from an original, analyses the changes, and presents them to you to show what's different, accept what you want to change, and make it easy to see how far you've moved off the original draft. For a certain kind of work, it's a real time saver and it makes it easy to respond when your collaborators ask why their masterful lead-in sentence didn't make the cut. (Original post)
Makers of "webinar" software are feverishly pitching the idea of at-your-desk conferences as a money-saving alternative to travel these days. DimDim, an open-source meeting platform, offers web users a truly money-saving experience, with up to 20 users able to view a presentation, three of them with microphone access, with no software installations required. It's a nice step up if you need something a little more professional than a social video chat room, and is surprisingly responsive on freehand drawing, text, audio, and even screencasting across a variety of connection speeds. (Original post)
How many 10-minute verbal explanations would have worked much better as a one-minute cocktail napkin sketch? Plenty of them, we'd suspect. For ideas and projects where drawing a line through your thoughts helps keep them together, MindMeister is a great helper. Not only does their web-based design tool allow for easy branching, notating, and organisation, but if you just want to jam in a few ideas to be moulded into shape later, it allows for email additions. You can, of course, share, publish and collaborate on your mental diagrams, and doing so might just save you a really unnecessary phone call or stop-and-chat. (Original post)
Drop.io is really convenient because it lets you store up to 100 MB of files without a sign-up, password, or software. Present.io, a group-focused tangent, lets you gather a team of chatters around a set of images, text, audio, or even video files and let them tell you what rocks and what stinks about them. Those away from a computer can call in mid-stream and leave MP3 voicemails for all to hear or join in a phone conference call. Meanwhile, the "drop" administrator keeps the show moving by queuing up new files on viewers' screens, and nobody has to log in or be accepted to join in — they just need the right URL. (Original post)
Not that we aren't at least thinking of holding our Lifehacker chat and brainstorming sessions in Wave, but for the time being, Campfire does a remarkably good job of letting multiple people yak it out and learn from each other. It's searchable, it makes uploading files to everyone easy, it can be a walled garden or open to those you link in, and it sits nicely in a browser tab, changing its name title when new chats arrive. There's a fair number of third-party clients and input tools available for 37Signals' platform, but it works just fine as a quiet spot to talk.
It's hard to jump in and describe the best features about Zoho's vast suite of online editing and group organisation tools, because so much changes on a week-to-week basis. That said, if you find Google Docs to be impressive for a single user, but not a great back-and-forth facilitator, Zoho is where you should look next. It's able to handle both the lower-level tasks of group editing, document sharing and other work, as well as the milestone tracking, group chat, invoice creation and other tasks needed by teams that aren't sitting right next to each other. It's good stuff, and it's free. (Original post)
Aside from the obvious entry, what did we leave off the list that helps you work with others and not want to strangle both them and your mouse? Tell us what you're using to collaborate in the comments.