For online collaboration, there are Google Docs and Zoho. Both are tools that allow collaboration on word processing documents, spreadsheets, and presentation slides, among others. This is ‘cloud’ computing — moving files off desktops and into the internet cloud. Both seem to try to mimic as much of the desktop experience as possible.
But if you want quick and easy (no logins, no ‘sharing’ of files and folders) click-a-link-and-go online collaboration, ScribLink and EtherPad may be exactly what you’re looking for. Both of these are great for working with students during virtual office hours as well as collaborating with colleagues.
If you’ve tried either of these, please let me know how they worked for you!
If all you want to do is collaborate on writing text in real time, EtherPad is an excellent choice.
This is real time editing. As you type, all others in the room can see what you’re typing, and more than one person may type at once.
There is a chat box for communication, although one user testimonial on the EtherPad site says that when their team meets, they open EtherPad and login to a conference call.
You may save as you go, and those revisions are saved in perpetuity.
This is a very simple little program that does exactly what it needs to do and nothing more.
Do you have a student who is having trouble with a paper? Meet with them in real time to discuss the problem areas (they can copy and paste their paper into EtherPad) and watch as they make the edits or offer your own suggestions. Do colleagues come to meetings with laptops in hand? Have everyone join you on your EtherPad to keep meeting minutes or if you’re working on rewriting policy, use EtherPad to wordsmith.
Update (9/7/09): Etherpad added a new feature called a “time slider.” Etherpad now ‘records’ your edits as you go. Use the time slider to play back all the changes made.
When you visit the Scriblink website, this is the screen you see. With a quick glance you can see that Scriblink is more involved than EtherPad.
Scriblink boasts an intuitive interface, which is great because there doesn’t appear to be a user’s manual.
Everyone who is in the room can use all of the features… at the same time.
The tools include:
- Drawing tools (marker, straight line, square, circle), text, eraser, and grid (which turns the entire white board into graph paper). Change the color of the drawing tools, the color of the background, and the size of the drawing tool.
- Math symbols (click the pi button) using Latex; click on the image to embed the equation you created. [Note: This feature didn’t work in Firefox for me. When I told Firefox to simulate IE, it worked perfectly.]
- Upload images. Be aware that to upload images you need to have popups enabled. If you enable popups after you already have content on the whiteboard, your screen may refresh and your whiteboard may go back to its original, unwritten upon state.
On the far right of the screen are the communication tools. Users are automatically numbered as they arrive, but you can certainly change your name. An interesting feature is that your name changes color as you change the color of your drawing tool. To invite people, you can either “Get URL” and send that out via email, IM, or whatever way you’d like, or you email directly from the scriblink page.
When you are done, you can save the file. In which case, the file is saved on the Scriblink servers, and they’ll email you a link to access it. To print, Scriblink loads a new webpage where it rotates the (png) image 90 degrees in a nice printable format. Finally, by clicking “send” you can email the weblink to whomever you’d like and include a little message with it.
“Send file” allows you to send a file from your computer, say a spreadsheet, to everyone in the room.
The chat window is straight-forward. Type to chat. If you’d rather talk, there is a VOIP and free phone conference (long distance rates apply) option, although I confess to having not used either of these features.
Here I have used some of the Scriblink features:
The only thing I find cumbersome about this program is that once something is on the board, there isn’t a way to select it as an ‘object,’ grab it, and move it. With the equation editor and image uploads, when they are first brought onto the whiteboard, you can move them, but once they’ve been placed, they are not going anywhere. You’re only options are the eraser (use the size control to change the size of the eraser), the undo button, or to clear the entire whiteboard.
In March 2009, the Scriblink folks wrote that they “have some huge announcements on the horizon,” but the nature of those announcements were unspecified.
As a side note, I first used Scriblink in the fall of 2008 while on sabbatical in Georgia. A friend of mine joined me for a rousing game of vice presidential bingo. I found bingo cards online, took screen shots of two of them, saved them to my computer, then uploaded them into scriblink. We each chose a different color marker and marked our bingo cards as we watched the debate from our respective coasts. I confess that I did make an attempt to erase her marks without her knowing it, but she caught me.
Update on 5/11/2010. Etherpad has officially closed its virtual doors. But there are others you can try. MeetingWords looks pretty much like Etherpad. Check out this CNET blog post for additional suggestions.