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Google Drive is quickly becoming one of the most popular tools for those interested in collaborating on documents, presentations, PDFs, and spreadsheets.
Google Drive’s native tools (including comments, a chat feature, and different levels of editing powers) are a great set of features, but there are specialized annotation web apps available that integrate with Google Drive and make communicating with others about your document, PDF, or image file easier and more effective.
What’s The Point of Annotations?
Annotations allow those involved in creating a document to add individual, targeted comments to existing material through text, drawings, and highlighting without altering the original material itself.
In today’s collaborative environment, annotations have quickly become a common part of most web-apps. It is much easier to make annotations online than to share files back and forth every time a new comment is made, and working at the same time as other contributors can majorly simplify the collaborative process.
Annotations can be used in almost any context, including:
- Group Projects: While Google has introduced a wide range of features for students, working in groups can still be a frustrating process. Annotations can go a long way towards removing those frustrations. Instead of having everyone edit a document at the same time, adding comments and questions can help to clarify areas of concern without changing up the content every few minutes.
- Reading Comprehension: Your high school English teacher wasn’t crazy when she said to make notes on sticky notes while you read assigned novels! Making notes as you read any document (whether an academic paper, newspaper article, or work document) can help to improve your understanding of what you’re reading and give you more information to pull from when you have to give answers.
- Teaching: It’s a lot easier to learn from thoughtful comments left by teachers than it is to try and understand cryptic corrections or a single grade. Annotations are a great way to help students expand on points, re-organize their essay structure, or to communicate when ideas appear to be unclear.
- Document Reviews: Annotations allow you to go much more in-depth with your feedback then generic comments, and annotations are much less frustrating than having multiple users edit the document directly without communicating their intentions.
- Image Processing: It can be difficult to collaboratively edit images online, but annotations (especially through drawing tools) offer a great way to give direct feedback targeted to specific areas of an image instead of using vague descriptions to communicate your point.
- Event Planning: Planning a wedding, reunion, or other party with a group of people online? Annotations can be an ideal method for sharing ideas about themes and colours, giving opinions on invitations, and collaborating on decoration concepts.
What Are the Benefits of Annotations?
There are an almost unending number of reasons why someone may choose to use annotations, but these are some of the most common motivating factors:
- Security of Information: If you want to share a document and have input from others, but don’t want them to modify any of the existing material, annotations are far superior to other methods of sharing documents. Annotations allow for input without offering any opportunity for viewers to change your material.
- Collaboration: Nothing simplifies collaboration like PDFs. It’s easy to make some quick changes in a shared Google Doc, but it’s much more valuable for your team to explain why you would like to make those changes and ask for others’ insight!
- Engaging Presentation: In some cases, annotations may actually be a part of your final presentation of information. Imagine the benefits that could come from a scholarly document about Beethoven that has annotations containing sound clips, or additional perspectives of an oil painting on a PDF about modern art.
- Comprehension: In any situation where you’re providing comments, it makes it a lot easier to understand them when they’re placed in the context of the source material. Annotations allow comments to be integrated directly into the context of the original document, helping the person who requested your comments to understand your point of view.
- Depth of Learning: Evidence shows that annotating documents can help your recall memory in research situations. Annotating articles for your own purposes increases the amount that you engage with the document, which in turn helps your brain encode more of what you’ve read and retain it for later recall.
What Are the Best Annotation Tools for Google Drive?
MetaPDF is a great option for people looking for a basic annotation option for PDFs. All you need to access this web app is a Google Drive account, and you can immediately begin highlighting and commenting on PDFs while sharing your thoughts with anyone else on your team.
Kami takes annotations one step further by offering annotation options on many common file types (including .doc, .ppt., .jpg and more) and allows for a wide variety of editing options – such as freehand drawing, real-time collaboration, off-line access, and highlighting, underlining, and strikethrough options.
Kami is offered at three different price-points. The “Basic” option ($2/month) offers an autosave feature and removes the ads that are present in the free version of the web app. The “Work” option ($5/month) also gives users the ability to convert files to PDFs, split PDFs, have unlimited collaborators, use e-Signatures, add voice annotations, and insert shapes.
Lumin is available as a tool to be used with Google Drive, Dropbox, or OneDrive, and can also be downloaded as a Chrome extension to quickly modify Gmail attachments. The features offered by Lumin include basic annotation tools, as well as touch screen support to facilitate adding drawings on your tablet or phone.
Lumin works across devices, and supports multiple users with real-time sync. You can control how much editing access each user has, and allows you to create, save, and edit PDF forms. E-Signature tools for Lumin are coming soon.
Marqueed is an image-specific annotating service that allows teams to markup and discuss images at the same time. It allows users to pinpoint exact areas of an image that require work, keeps track of comments left over time, and works easily with Dropbox, Google Drive and e-mail. Labels and description tools allow you to stay organized with your revisions and manage multiple images at once.
Notifications can be set up for specific activity on a file, a snapshot feature allows you to comment on an entire web page at once, and people can be invited on as guests who have limited access to editing tools.
Dochub is a no-frills approach to PDF editing, document signing, and form filling. You can open PDFs directly from Gmail, Google Drive, and Dropbox and annotate them using text and drawing.
Dochub has 256-bit SSL encryption, OAuth 2.0 authentication and encrypted storage which is great for teams that regularly work with sensitive documents.
6. Easy Annotate (iPad)
If you prefer to use your iPad for reviewing PDFs, the Easy Annotate app may be one of the better choices for you.
This app allows you to view two PDFs simultaneously (great for two-page spreads, image comparisons, or different drafts) and annotate them using highlighting, underlying, text, or drawing. Sounds, signatures, and images can also be added to the files, and annotated files can be exported to Dropbox, Google Drive, or email.
It should be noted that the free version of this app does contain advertisements that you will have to upgrade to the paid version ($6.99) to remove, and that the app does not feature the same collaborative tools as the options above.
While this web app is specifically targeted for teachers, it’s a great tool for those who often find themselves marking documents (whether you work in elementary schools, high schools, teach casually, or grade papers at the post-secondary level).
ChalkUp offers tons of marking options that take advantage of annotation to offer students detailed, in-depth feedback through text and drawing. Students can view this feedback instantly, offering greater opportunities for communication and learning.
ChalkUp integrates seamlessly with Google Apps for Education, making it an ideal marking tool for teachers who are already using Google’s teaching tools in their classroom.
How Do You Use Annotations?
Google Drive has become a go-to option for reading, storing, and editing pdf files online – these annotation tools aren’t meant to replace its existing functionality, but rather to supplement its tools with more options and a process that is more targeted for your team’s needs.
What do you tend to use annotations for? If there are any annotation tools that I missed on this list that you’ve found useful, I’d love to hear about them in the comments!