The internet is a wonderful thing. It makes collaboration possible in a way that we really couldn’t have imagined a few short years ago.
Emailing documents backwards and forwards is bound to end in tears, so we’ve taken a look at the software that might help.
I had high hopes that this would be a low-tech, super-easy answer to this problem.
It is true that it’s free, and that it allows multiple users to edit a document, at the same time. This is neat.
The downside is that the text editor is not just bad, it’s AWFUL. I can live with limited functionality; I am not that precious about the super-advanced cleverness that Word or Open Office can offer. What I cannot live with is the hesitant, choppy, will-it-won’t-it accept what I just typed. It’s slow and unreliable to navigate, which is a consequence of using something that is actually HOSTED on the internet.
Dropbox, on the other hand needs to be installed. You do this on the computers that you want to share the information and then your Dropbox folder appears as just another folder that you can use to store documents.
When you have an internet connection, it will cleverly synchronise the files in the background, so that the latest view is always available to your other machines or those of your collaboration buddy. You have a copy whether you’re online or offline, and you can use the tool of your choice to work on the files.
Dropbox is also free, if you can manage with 2GB of space, which is plenty when we’re talking about text documents. You can even earn a little bit more free storage, if you jump through a few hoops… like enrolling a friend. Welcome Iain!
Other cool writing tools
It’s software that can stop internet junkies from wasting their time when they are supposed to be writing. You tell the software how much freedom you want (say, an hour) and it won’t let you play on the internet for that time. This seems draconian, but it is rather easy to squander large slabs of the day on the internet
I am a big fan of mind maps. The best way to make a mind map is of course to get the biggest possible piece of paper and use a fistful of colourful crayons. If you want to make an electronic copy, then Visio works well, as it has a mind map stencil available. You don’t get Visio with all versions of Microsoft Office, but if you happen to have one that does then it’s a useful tool.
Quill and ink picture from David Baboulene’s site, a veteran collaborator with an interesting website