What do you think of when you hear the word “collaboration”?
Do you associate it with the frustrating clunkiness of trying to synchronize everyone’s work? Many collaboration tools require an account to even get started before you benefit from their collaboration features. That in itself negates the act of swift collaborating, with people coming from all ends of the spectrum to combine ideas, talent and work.
Many believe that collaboration should be as “painless” as possible. We dug through the web with these simple guidelines in mind.
- No sign-up
- No download
- Shareable link
- Quick to start (10 seconds or less)
- Accessible from any Internet-enabled device
- Intuitive, mobile-friendly interface
- Save to browser cache/local storage
- Collaborative features (e.g. chat, username change)
Note: Using a tool without signing up can deny you access to extra features. A prime example of this would be mind mapping (mentioned in this article). For the most part, you shouldn’t have to sign up to collaborate with others using these tools. So lets take a look at these “rule-breakers” of traditional web apps, shall we?
Visual Creation and Expression
Padlet allows you to get started without an account, and come back to your creation later. You may already be familiar with it from our brief overview of Padlet. If you are a creative, discover its features and tell us what you like.
Padlet is attractive to educators with its ability to create visual interaction in the classroom. Its use is open to interpretation. If you need a creative tool to collaborate with others on, Padlet it is.
If you want to save and access your walls later, an account is highly recommended – you don’t want to lose all the work. You can create several walls, and with an account, you’ll find all your creations organized in your account.
Collaborative Note-taking and Document Editing
TitanPad, based on Etherpad, is one I missed. It allows you to do a lot more than just simultaneously take notes with others without having to sign in. You can import documents and then export the changed document. Within its clean and highly functional interface, TitanPad has collaborative features many alternative web apps don’t have, like chat, authorship colors, and a Time Slider to see the timeline of changes. You can even save revisions without having an account.
CoSketch is a multi-user whiteboard with an interface that needs almost no learning curve. Its design is not “up-to-date” in today’s terms, but it is one of the best considering the features and their usefulness. It supports hotkeys, provides undo-history, an array of tools, an image library, image upload, Google Maps embedding, and chat. You can also quickly change your username to something that your teammates will recognize you by.
Just share the custom link in any form with your teammates and they can start working on any device.
A great minimal alternative for just sharing a drawing is Draw.to.
Ultimate Meeting Tool
Twiddla is an all-in-one tool to jot down notes, edit docs, sketch, tinker with code, upload images, browse websites, even input mathematical formulas, and more. Its audio and chat features earned it a spot on our online meeting tools lineup.
Quick Screen Share is a little-known screen sharing tool. We published a full review of Quick Screen Share a few years back. It is a side project from the creators of Screencast-O-Matic and only requires Java to be used. To get started, choose whether you want to share your screen or see someone’s screen. Type in your name and click “Start”. Share the custom link with the person, approve the Java service, and you’re in!
Screenleap is a viable alternative we also recommend at MakeUseOf for instant screen sharing.
There are several collaborative coding websites available. We narrowed it down to one for the sake of brevity.
Firepad seems to offer the best features coupled with a intuitive interface. In addition to changing your name and choosing from several stylistic preferences, perhaps the most useful feature is a dropdown menu of all past “pads” automatically saved. This is always a plus if a tool has this without needing to create an account or even click “save”.
Collaborative Task List
Flask is a simple task list web app with a modern and mobile-friendly user interface. Each task list has its own custom link, allowing you to share your tasks. Tasks can be “starred”, moving them to the top of the list. You can also tag tasks with different colors. If you’re expecting a full-featured “task manager”, Flask isn’t it. There is no “admin” account/controls, so anyone with access to the link can modify the tasks. You can suggest a feature to Flask through UserVoice, and you’ll see that they have actually implemented many of the suggestions.
Planleaf is an alternative tool you might consider. It is an email-based task list, which doesn’t require sign-up either. Compose an email with tasks (starting each one with a dash), add “firstname.lastname@example.org” in the cc field and send it to your fellow team members. Send this task list back and forth when tasks are completed or new ones are added – keep everyone in the loop, without creating a new list.
Schedule a Meetup
Never, I mean never, again will you have to sit around in a group trying to figure out the best time to meet up again.
Doodle is one of the simplest way to find a time that works for everyone. One person creates the “event”, inputs some available time slots (optional) and sends out a link to others, where they can enter the times that work for them. As the event creator, you have a special “admin link” that allows you to edit and manage the event. Note that the only reason Doodle requires your email is because you have to send out the invite through email.
Mind Mapping, Diagrams and Flow Charts
Brainstorming may be one of the first tasks you do with your group, and web-based mind mapping is a powerful tool for group creativity.
Diagrammr [No Longer Available] is a bare-bones web app centered around “sentence entries”. Enter three words – the first and third words are connected by the middle word. If you want to group multiple words together, use quotes around those specific words. Under the diagram box, there are links to change the size, layout, delete and embed.
It would be nice to have a mind mapping website with more features, while still being flexible without requiring an account. However, my search has been unsuccessful.
Bubbl.us provides a happy medium. It’s a very popular mind mapping tool, one we even recommend to kids. Start creating without an account, but if you want to save or share (pretty important features), you do need an account. However, an account is not needed to access the mind map link you share with others, so that is a plus.
There are so many free, web-based video conferencing tools freeing you from Skype and other pro-registration services. Websites like vLine or the one-click Appear.in provide free and simple video chatting with many people. Just share the link!
Which Are the Easiest Collaboration Tools You Use
Some of the tools mentioned have a lot of alternatives and I had to narrow down the selection based on ease of use, features and functionality. Others had few to none and I had to scour the Internet so that you wouldn’t have to. But the great thing about the Internet is there’s always something someone hasn’t heard of. And the great thing about MakeUseOf is we have a highly-educated community (you!).
So what do you use? Are there better options? Why are they better? Do you recommend a tool mentioned here? We’d like to hear about that too!
Image Credits: Coworking center Via Shutterstock