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6/30/2009
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Beyond Google Docs: 7 Web-Based Collaboration Apps

Along with the search-engine giant's popular collaboration tools, we look at Zoho Writer, Pastebin, Dabbleboard, Dimdim, Yugma, and Bubbl.us.




Pastebin is aptly named: just paste and save to let others read your plain text.
(click for image gallery)

Here's a scenario you're probably all too familiar with: Create document. Send to other party. Wait. Get back revisions. Edit. Send back. Wait. Get back other revisions. Edit. And so on. Given that you've both got network connections, wouldn't it make sense to find some way to collaborate on the same document, either in real time or as close to it as possible?

In this article I'll look at several Web services that let you and others edit and revise different kinds of documents collaboratively directly online. (I didn't include services such as Microsoft Office Live Workspace, where you have to edit the file in your local application and re-post it to the service.)

Up until recently, realtime collaboration on documents was something limited to specific software packages. But thanks to the Web, it's now possible to work together on many common document types, often in real time and often also without paying a cent.

What was pleasantly surprising to discover was the sheer breadth of tools available. If you want nothing more than a place to temporarily dump some text, there's Pastebin or Writeboard; if you want document-level collaboration, consider Zoho Writer or Google Docs; and for more general desktop and application sharing, there are services like Yugma. It's possible to find, with very little effort, the exact grade of collaborative service you'd need for your particular workload.

Pastebin

Pastebin started as a programmer's tool, and to a great degree it still is, but it's used by a great many more kinds of folks than just programmers. The name sums up the idea: you paste in a piece of text, with your choice of syntax highlighting, and access it through a short URL which you can then pass on to others.

You can also elect to password-protect entries (via a custom domain name), or even set up your own Pastebin server with the General Public License source code for the site. You can also set up a term of expiry for a particular Pastebin entry. The default is one month, but you might want things to last a bit longer.

Pastebin isn't meant to be more than a depository for text. There's no interactive editing and only the most primitive revision control (edits create a new version of a document), but for quick-and-dirty text sharing, it's just about perfect.

Google Docs

For many people, Google Docs is the default collaborative environment on the Web: it's fast, it works extremely well, and if you don't already have a Google account you can create one in seconds. Its biggest limitation, at least for now, is that it doesn't have much in the way of live collaboration: you have to take turns editing and passing changes back and forth.

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