Among different editing applications, Google Docs continues to be popular

This edition of NetSpeak revisits a few tools/services that facilitate online collaboration. As discussed in this column earlier, one of the attractions of the Net is the availability of umpteen tools for undertaking collaborative tasks with ease. Tools meant for diverse collaborative tasks such as document co-editing, collaborative brainstorming, conducting audio/video conferencing and so on are in place. Aside the existing ones, many new tools/services continue to emerge.

Due to these collaboration tools, teammates from varied geographical locations can now work together in real-time with ease. Unlike in the past when this kind of collaboration was viewed with a little suspicion, now such applications are embraced without much resistance.

Mind maps

A collaboration technology that is gaining wide acceptance among professionals, academicians and the like is ‘Mind maps'. A mind map is a graphical representation of various tasks/themes centred on a topic. For instance, if one is planning to run a short training programme on a specific subject/theme, he can organise the various training module ideas graphically through a mind map. A mind map starts with a central topic (here the theme of your training programme) and one can insert several topics branching out from the main topic. Each of these topics can be further divided into several sub-topics. With each topic nodes one can attach notes, multimedia content and URLs. A mind map can be considered as a graphical representation of our thought process and it visually depicts the relationships between different concepts/themes. Besides helping individuals organise their thoughts and enhancing memory power, mind maps can accommodate collaborative tasks as well. It could facilitate collaborative ventures such as brainstorming, project planning, planning academic programmes and so on. For creating mind maps, several product alternatives exist. Mindomo (http://www.mindomo.com/ is a good instance of such a product. The service offers tools that help generate maps with a few commands and keep it on-line (example of a simple mind-map created by this author: http://goo.gl/8R0jl). Besides providing the free facility to create mind maps on-line, the service lets one invite his collaborators to enrich the map further. In addition, to help create mind maps off-line, Mindomo offers desktop software too. Another feature-packed mind-map service worth a mention is the free product Mind Meister (http://www.mindmeister.com/). If one is interested in a full-fledged desktop-based MindMap software, he can take a look at the free mind map tool Freeplane, available at: http://freeplane.sourceforge.net/ wiki/ index.php/ Main_Page.

Popular collaboration tools such as Google Docs, Dropbox and the like continue to enthral their users by regularly dishing out new features.

Among the different collaborative editing applications, Google Docs continues to be popular. Of course, this popularity does not make it complacent; rather, to live up to netizens high expectations, the service frequently introduces new features for furthering its collaborative potential. The recently introduced feature ‘Web clipboard‘ is another instance of this trend. This facility allows to store items copied from a ‘Google Docs' document into Google server (http://googledocs.blogspot.com/2010/02/web-clipboard-for-google-docs.html). The entries thus stored get attached to Google account and remain on the server for 30 days. One obvious advantage is that it helps easily transfer content from one Google Docs application to another (for instance from a Spreadsheet to a Document). Also, the content transferred to the web clipboard from one machine can be accessed from other computers too.

Though Web clipboard is useful in copying content across Google Docs applications, it cannot be used to transfer content from applications other than Google Docs. But Google Chrome users can easily circumvent this shortcoming by installing the ‘Web Clipboard' extension (https://chrome.google.com/extensions/detail/idonmcopbgceobhkdbikbdellmdogkih). Once installed, this extension keeps a web clipboard icon on Chrome's toolbar and it can be used for transferring content across different applications — not just from Google Docs.

Dropbox

Yet another popular service in the collaborative realm is Dropbox, the service that lets user share files/folders with the teammates. But one limitation of Dropbox is that the user can share files/folders only with other Dropbox members. If a Dropbox user wishes to enable some of his collaborators to upload documents to a specific folder in his Dropbox account, the service Dropittome (http://www.dropitto.me/) could come in handy. This Dropbox based service enables a Dropbox user to receive files to his Dropbox account from anyone. Once logged-in with his Dropbox account and connect Dropittome to his Dropbox, the service (Dropittome) provides a password-protected file upload address.

To receive the files from a collaborator, just share this URL and password with the collaborator. The collaborator, on his part, has to simply access this link, enter the password and upload the file. Once the upload process is over, in a few seconds the user will get an email alert with file upload details and find this file in his Dropbox account under the folder ‘Dropittome'. If one is learning how to use a service or tool or a programming language or something similar, it is always helpful to keep a brief note that describes the different commands, syntax and other relevant details of the service/language concerned. Even experienced users/professionals might find such brief notes useful. In the technical parlance such quick reference guides are known as cheat-sheets (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheat_sheet). The Google cheat-sheet, available at: http://www.google.com/help/cheatsheet.html, is an example. If one is looking for cheat sheets for the various Google products, he can take a look at this blog post: http://webdesignledger.com/freebies/11-helpful-cheat-sheets-for-popular-google-products. Services that aggregate cheat sheets of various products and services also exist. ‘Cheat Sheet' (http://www.cheat-sheets.org/), the service that hosts cheat sheets on a variety of topics that include ‘C', C++, Javascript, algebra, math and statistics is worth a try. DevCheatsheet (http://devcheatsheet.com/), the site that hosts thousands of cheat sheets — mainly on IT related subjects/services — is yet another worth a visit.

Though the service is being projected as the one meant for developers, it hosts several quick guides — like the Twitter cheat sheet collection (http://devcheatsheet.com/tag/twitter/) — that might be useful for non-programmers as well.

He can be contacted at: jmurali@gmail.com