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I have yet to find the perfect online collaboration tool. I want an application that lets me create, upload, share, and work alongside other people in real time to get things done, working virtually exactly as you would in person.

I’m not convinced it exists (if it does, let me know and I’ll be your best friend), but A.nnotate is a service that gets as close as anything I’ve found on the Web.

A.nnotate lets you annotate and upload documents of almost any kind – PDF, Word, PowerPoint, Excel, RTF, and HTML are all supported. It works totally within your web browser (currently Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Safari), and is an easy and useful solution.

Documents can be uploaded via a web page, or sent as an email attachment by cc’ing a given a.nnotate address (useful for telling your colleagues about it).


Once it’s online, there are a number of features at your disposal. You can highlight text, write notes, tag a given document, or comment on it. Notes can be anything – you can connect them with text, or an image, or even just a blank space of the screen.


When you upload a document, you can share it with anyone you choose; you can always, of course, keep it private and deal with it yourself. When you share it, you can email a link asking for comments, and a conversation can take place right with the document.

In addition, there are a number of other privacy-based features. You can make a note private, or only accessible to the owner of the document. Visibility of all parts of the document and its edits are able to be shown or hidden as you want.

All the edits and notes are time-stamped, and totally searchable. You can also search through the notes and documents, and get a timeline of all the changes made on a given document.


If you’re the owner of the document, A.nnotate offers several different ways to track edits – you can see whenever a document is edited, or whenever a particular person edits the document.

Your documents are stored on the A.nnotate servers, and there are a number of ways to categorize them. You can organize them by folder or sub-folder, view them in a number of different ways using thumbnails and folders, and search easily through all your documents. You can also, if you so desire, share whole folders with specific people instead of just individual documents.

A.nnotate offers both a free version and a paid version of their software. The free version comes with the ability to upload 30 pages per month, and also has limitations for how many people can access and edit a given document. That’s a fairly small number, but is enough for using in a pinch (which is all I use it for anyway).

If you’re business-minded, there are also options for education and standalone servers, allowing you to host the documents yourself. A.nnotate is definitely geared toward the business crowd, and privacy and security is one of their chief concerns.

If you’re in need of a way to collaborate on everything from books to web pages, A.nnotate is a simple, secure and attractive way to do just that.

What do you use for collaborating with others online?

  1. alfred
    March 21, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    diigo - social bookmarking with annotation etc

  2. Jeff D
    March 20, 2009 at 3:24 pm

    Hey David- My name is Jeff and I work with the Office Live Outreach Team. Microsoft offers a free service called Office Live Workspace that I thought you might be interested in hearing about. Like A.nnotate, someone who is a part of an Office Live Workspace can collaborate with users on a given document, but with Office Live Workspace up to 100 users can have read-only or editing capabilities as decided by the creator of the Workspace. Workspaces accepts not just Microsoft Office file formats, but many others as well. Take a look at the following link for examples of how Office Live Workspaces can be used in everyday situations:
    Office Live Outreach Team

  3. dan
    March 20, 2009 at 2:10 am

    or you could try - which is limited in supported file types for on-line editing but otherwise spot on.

  4. LM
    March 19, 2009 at 10:22 pm

    You might consider DimDim as an option for web conferencing that includes voice, video, and application sharing allowing for at least some synchronous collaboration - via comments & drawing tools (can be recorded). Much like the more expensive Elluminate or Wimba Classroom tools - DimDim is open source (I think).

    Thanks for reviewing tools for those of us who need to know but never have enough time :) - thanks very much, indeed.

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