Collaborative Authoring and Communication Tools Help Writers, Editors, SMEs Work Together

By David Kowalsky, Guest Editor

David Kowalsky

Do you ever find yourself overwhelmed with trying to keep track of all the versions of a document that are being sent back-and-forth by you and your work colleagues by email? When opening a document to edit, have you ever had the experience of being frustrated by immediately seeing a message pop up telling you that the document is locked? Many companies have introduced features to their products to alleviate these types of issues, making collaborative authoring– projects where written works are created by multiple people together (collaboratively) rather than individually – more attractive and worth investigating.

Document editing is frequently done collaboratively, especially now that it is so typical for companies to have documentation and engineering team members located at different locations throughout the world. Some products even promote editing with real-time technology. But it can be confusing to read marketing material that uses a variety of different terms including, but not limited to: co-authoring (Microsoft), collaborative multi-person editing (Google Cloud Connect for Microsoft Office), and multiple user, online editing (IBM LotusNotes with eXpresso). Each are referring to essentially the same thing: the ability to edit the same document, at the same time, by multiple people at different locations.

The purpose of this article is not to rate the products, but instead to introduce what is available by listing the key product details, with the intention of encouraging further investigation. 

The majority of the products listed below fall into the category Document-centric Authoring, but there are other tools available to help you collaborate on documents, which are in a second category, Other Tools for Collaborating. Finally, there is Purpose Specific Solutions.

What about the future? It is already apparent that collaboration is not stopping with documents. Wikis are becoming more widespread, but even more intriguing is the start up Convofy and Chatter (from SalesForce), which are both pushing for companies to implement private social networks where collaboration in real-time is used for as many workplace functions as possible.


Document-centric Authoring

Google Docs

Google Docs

 enables multiple people in different locations to collaborate simultaneously on the same document, spreadsheet, or presentation from any computer with Internet access. Users can see edits in real time. Up to fifty people can edit a document at the same time.

Cost: Google Apps: Up to 10 custom accounts for free. 
Google Apps for Business: Get added controls and features for $5 per user per month.

Additional information

Google Cloud Connect for Microsoft Office

Google Cloud Connect for Microsoft Office is a free plug-in for Microsoft Office 2003, 2007, and 2010 that lets you share and edit Word, PowerPoint, and Excel documents simultaneously with other people. You get the collaboration benefits of Google Docs, while still using Microsoft Office.

Cost: 
Plug-in is free. 
Google Apps: Can get up to 10 custom accounts for free. 
Google Apps for Business: Get added controls and features for $5 per user per month.

Additional information:

Microsoft Office 2010: Word, PowerPoint, and OneNote

Microsoft Office 2010: Word, PowerPoint, and OneNote (via shared notebooks) co-authoring capabilities enable you to simultaneously edit the same Word 2010 documents and PowerPoint 2010 presentations.
This is after saving and then opening a file online to SharePoint 2010 (business users) or SkyDrive(everyone else).

When someone else opens the same file for editing while you have it open in Word 2010 or PowerPoint 2010, from the same SharePoint or SkyDrive location, you automatically begin a co-authoring session. Automatically see who else is editing and where they are working in the document. Save the document to see changes from other editors as you work. Your changes also become available to other editors each time you save.

When simultaneously editing files with others in Word 2010, the paragraph you are currently editing is automatically blocked to other editors to avoid conflicts. You see who is editing the paragraph and can view their presence (the formal term for availability information – contact card information) and initiate contact from their as well.

If someone makes changes to the same copy of the document when they have it offline, their changes automatically sync the next time they are online and you then see those changes as well.

Cost:Office 2010 pricing information

Additional information:

Microsoft Web Apps: Word, Excel, and OneNote

Microsoft Web Apps: Word, Excel, and OneNote allows you to post the content that you create in PowerPoint, Word, Excel, and OneNote on your desktop to a Microsoft SharePoint 2010 site (for businesses) or a Windows Live SkyDrive folder (for everybody else). Then access, view, edit, and share those files from almost any computer with an Internet connection. When others open the same file (in a Word , Excel or OneNote Web App) , everyone can edit at the same time.

Cost: 
For consumers, Office Web Apps are free on Windows Live, by the use of a free Windows Live ID. For business customers, purchasing a volume license edition of Office 2010—Office Professional Plus 2010 or Office Standard 2010—includes a license for the Office Web Apps. Business customers can then install and run Office Web Apps on SharePoint 2010.

Additional information
:

Microsoft Office 365

Microsoft Office 365 is a suite of office collaboration and productivity tools delivered through the cloud. Available in range of service plans to meet the needs of businesses of all sizes.

For plans that include Office Web Apps:

You can simultaneously edit Excel Spreadsheets and OneNote notebooks with others in real time, and see exactly who is editing and viewing your documents. View, edit and share content created in the Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote desktop applications online, from almost any device with an Internet connection.

Cost
: For professionals and small businesses 
Plan P: $6 Per user/month

. For midsize businesses and enterprises (discounts are available for customers who want to purchase volume licensing). Enterprise Plans (E1-4) from $10-27 per user/month. Kiosk work plans (K1 – K2): from $4-10 per user/month. 

Office 365 for education: Contact a Microsoft accent representative or partner. 

Can also add individual Office 365 services
Office Professional Plus: $12 per user/month
Exchange Online: Plan 1: $5 per user/month. Plan 2: $10 user/month. 
Exchange Online Kiosk: $2 per user/month. Exchange Online Archiving: $4 Per user/month. SharePoint Online: Plan 1: $5.25 per user/month, Plan 2: $10.25 Per user/month. Lynch Online: Plan 1: $2 per user/month. Plan 2: $6.50 Per user/month. Office Web Apps: Plan 1 $11.25 per user/month. Plan 2: $16.25 Per user/month.

Additional information:

Box.net

Box.net is integrated with Google Docs, so you can create Google Docs and Google Spreadsheets within Box and share with others for real-time editing. As a cloud solution, there is no hardware to buy or software to install. User permissions and IT settings ensure secure management of all files.

Cost: 
Business (3 users minimum); $15 per user/month.
Enterprise. Call +1.877.729.4269 for pricing.

Additional information:

Agilewords

Agilewords is designed for online document reviews. Uses the old model of serialized collaboration: check out a file, edit, save, and check back in. Only one person at a time can edit a document offline while in review (in Microsoft Word 2003 or newer) and then re-upload. Limited to basic online editing (content update – no formatting). It is not an online word processor; you cannot create a table, add headings, or insert images, even though it lets you update documents offline. Get email notifications sent to your inbox every time authors edit content. Includes a Document Review Wizard to upload a document, setup a review, and invite collaborators.

Cost: 
Free: 1 Author, 3 documents
Individual: $19 per month. 1 Author. Unlimited documents. Custom domain.
SMB: $49 per month. 3 Authors, Unlimited documents. Custom domain.

Additional information:

  • Watch Demo (video – click “play” icon below “Review & Approve Documents”)

Zoho Docs

Zoho Docs uses the old model of serialized collaboration: check out a file, edit, save, and check back in. Prevents users from overwriting each other’s changes. After check-out of a document, you save it locally to your desktop to edit.

Cost
: Free Edition. 1 GB space. 
Standard Edition: $3 per user/month. 
Premium Edition: $5 per user/month.

Additional information:


Zoho Office for SharePoint 2003 and 2007

Zoho Office for SharePoint 2003 & 2007 stores documents in SharePoint; can easily be edited by right-clicking and opening the document in Zoho. By default, documents are opened for editing in a collaboration mode. The document is checked out to the user who opens it first. Other users who open the document can collaboratively contribute to the document. Only the first user can save the content back to the SharePoint library.

Cost
: Free Plan: Free 30 Days (Trial).
Monthly Subscription: $3 per user.
Yearly Subscription: $24 per user.

Additional information:

WordPerfect Office X5

WordPerfect Office X5 (Standard and Professional) provides integration with Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) 2007, using the old model of serialized collaboration: check out a file, edit, save, and check back in. Instead of checking files in and out through web browsers, the interface is built right into WordPerfect. When checking out a document, a copy of the document is saved to a “working folder” where you can revise the document and save the changes locally without sharing them with others. When you are ready to share your changes, check the document back in to the document library, making it accessible to others.

Cost: Professional (Full): $279.99 per user. 
Standard (Full): $179.99 per user.

Additional information:

Adobe Acrobat X Pro

Adobe Acrobat X Pro provides integration with Microsoft SharePoint 2007/2010, using the old model of serialized collaboration: check out a file, edit, save, and check back in. Access SharePoint from any Acrobat Open or Save dialog box.

Cost: Acrobat X Pro full version from $449. 

There are separate stores at Adobe.com. Adobe Store for home and home office. Education Store for students, educators, and staff. Business Store for small and medium businesses.

For SharePoint | SharePoint 2010 pricing see: How to Buy

Additional information:

Other Tools for Collaborating

Serna Enterprise Edition

Serna Enterprise Edition

 provides collaborative XML authoring features; users can work with XML documents shared on a WebDAV-enabled server. The Serna XML editor supports annotative redlining features for the review of XML documents with seamless XML editing, discussion, and approval of XML content.

Cost
: Starts at $749 per license for 1-5 licensed users. Price per license goes down – if buy for more users. There is also a one month free trial available.

Additional information
:

Adobe Acrobat X

Adobe Acrobat provides shared online document reviews and collaboration.

Email Review
: Sent by an individual or initiator of a group. Each person in the group sends their sticky notes, text edits, and markups to the initiator. All comments are merged into one PDF file to complete the review. Reviewers do not see each other’s comments unless the initiator merges all the comments and emails them to the team. Requires Acrobat or Reader versions 6 or later.

Shared Review/Collaborate Live: 
A secure way for internal and external members of a team to conduct an online review of any PDF document. Gives all the reviewers an opportunity to see everyone’s comments and give feedback. Reviewer commenting tools include: sticky notes, shapes, highlighters, lines, and stamps. First choose the reviewers and set a deadline. Then let Acrobat publish the shared document either using Acrobat.com’s free hosting services, or your own internal server. Must provide a free Adobe ID and password.

Acrobat X is required to initiate, track and manage a shared review. Only Acrobat X Pro users can enable those with the free Acrobat Reader to participate and add comments in a shared review.

Collaborate Live: chat and page view sharing. 
In an online session, remote users view a PDF document with a live chat window. Everyone sees the same part of the document.



Cost: 
Acrobat X Pro full version from $449. Adobe Reader X is free (download).

There are separate stores at Adobe.com. Adobe Store for home and home office. Education Store for students, educators, and staff. Business Store for small and medium businesses.

Additional information:
Getting Started: The Basics of Reviewing (video)

Google Docs Chat

Google Docs – Chat feature
 allows you and another collaborator to editing or commenting upon the same document at the same time, a box with the name of the collaborator appears at the top of the screen. If other people are editing or commenting upon a document simultaneously with you, you’ll see their edits and comments in real time. You can also see their names listed at the top. Click the arrow to the right of the names to open a tab where you can chat with other collaborators within the document.

Cost: 
See the above section for Google Docs

Microsoft Office 2010: Word, PowerPoint and OneNote via Shared Notebooks – Instant Messaging

Microsoft Office 2010: Word, PowerPoint, and OneNote via Shared notebooks – instant messaging(see “Co-authoring in Word and PowerPoint”) allow you to, depending on your instant messaging software, view information about current editors of a document and initiate communication with them from the Microsoft Office Backstage view.

To see contact card information (including availability information, also called presence) and communicate with other current editors from Word or PowerPoint, they need to be contacts of yours in your default instant messaging program. Supported programs for viewing presence and initiating IM conversations include Windows Live Messenger and other programs that support IMessenger.

If you use Microsoft Lync Server 2010 with Microsoft Lync 2010 (or Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 R2 with Microsoft Communicator 2007 R2 or another application that supports IMessengerAdvanced), you can see presence information and initiate IM or voice calls from within Word 2010 or PowerPoint 2010, and can also utilize these communication options from Backstage view.

Cost
: See the above section for Microsoft Office 2010: Word , PowerPoint, and OneNote via Shared notebooks

Zoho Docs Chat

Zoho Docs – Chat feature is a built-in Chat feature that allows real-time discussions about the document across users in different locations. No need to install a separate client for chat.

Private Chat – You can chat by sending private messages to an individual while working simultaneously, which makes your work fun and interesting.

Group Chat – Zoho Docs offers Group Chat, where you can invite your friends, family members, colleagues, etc., and share your message with them. They can also share their views and ideas simultaneously and can collaborate in real-time.

Cost
: See the above section for Zoho Docs

Microsoft Office 365 Instant Messaging for SharePoint

Microsoft Office 365: instant messaging for SharePoint; instant messaging for Lynch Online – Plans that include SharePoint Online enable real-time communication with colleagues from within SharePoint Online. 
Project Professional 2010 synchronizes task status with SharePoint 2010 to enable effective project collaboration with teams.

Plans that include Lync Online:
 Connect with others through instant messaging (IM), video calls and online meetings. Move easily from instant messaging into ad-hoc online meetings that include audio, video, and screen sharing with just a few mouse clicks.

  • Conduct online presentations to customers and colleagues including audio, video, screen sharing, and a virtual whiteboard.
  • Invite external contacts to easily join online meetings through a native or web-based client.
  • View presence status and click to communicate from within Microsoft Outlook, Office SharePoint, and other Office applications.
  • Communicate with external organizations running Lync using IM, audio and video through Lync federation. Connect with Windows Live Messenger contacts using IM, audio and video calls directly from Lync.

Cost
: See the above section for Microsoft Office 365

Versly

Versly(Now part of Cisco) integrates collaboration capabilities via a plug-in into Microsoft applications, allowing collaboration around content in documents, email, presentations, and spreadsheets. Cisco acquired the company in August 2011. At that time, the announced plan was to integrate the Versly technology with Cisco’s Quad (enterprise social software platform), Jabber (IM and presence/UC client and service), and WebEx (web conferencing).

Cost: 
Not available

Purpose-Specific Solutions

MindTouch

MindTouch TCS (Technical Communication Suite)

 provides a collaborative authoring environment that lives in a web browser. Both customers and employees can work together on creating content. It is not a document authoring system; does not provide the ability to create files, such as Word documents. Instead, use to create topics or pages that live in a product support center or online help for a company customer support knowledge base.

Cost:Request a quote

Additional information:

Convofy

Convofy

 is a private social network for companies. Share content with a team of people and communicate in real-time over that content. Annotate and collaborate on images, files, text, and the whole web with team members. Use chat or comments to attach context and send out messages to your team. Everyone in a company can join the private network. Only a work email address is needed.

Cost
: The Basic version is free. The Premium version is $5/user/month.

Additional information:

Chatter

Chatter

 is a private social network/business collaboration tool for people who work together at the same company or organization. Connect with your coworkers and share business information securely and in real-time. Updates on people, projects, and files are automatically pushed to you. Anyone with an email address that has the same company domain can join.



Cost: 
Free.

Additional information:

About the author

David Kowalsky is a technical writer for NEC Corporation of America in Bellevue, Washington. He is a senior member of the Society for Technical Communication‘s Puget Sound Chapter where he regularly writes book reviews for the Sound Views newsletter. In his spare time he enjoys running and reading. He can be reached via email or you can follow him on Twitter.

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6 Responses to “Collaborative Authoring and Communication Tools Help Writers, Editors, SMEs Work Together”

  1. Tad Staley February 8, 2012 at 12:11 pm #

    David – thanks for mentioning Convofy, which enables authors and editors to markup and comment on a wide range of content types (Office files, PDFs, images, video, even web pages). And the collaboration output is part of your news feed, so everyone stays on the same page. Convofy also has real-time communication (IM, group chat, presence, etc) which further improves responsiveness. It’s a very unique tool – I’ve used it often for co-authoring and it’s really effective.

  2. David Kowalsky February 10, 2012 at 4:31 pm #

    Richard Hamilton of XML Press (http://xmlpress.net/) on 09-Feb-2012 informed me about a tool I was not aware of called A.nnotate. http://a.nnotate.com/.

    An online service that lets you attach private or shared notes to documents and images using a web browser. You can use it individually to store and index documents, or within a group to create a shared layer of comments on top of documents. There are many applications, including reviewing draft documents, compiling corrections for future revisions, selecting passages for future reference and general document management.

    In earlier drafts of this article, I included IBM Lotus Live with eXpresso, but it was inadvertently left out of the published version.

    IBM Lotus Live with eXpresso
    http://www.expressocorp.com/what-is-expresso/

    Use to edit cloud-based files in your browser with Microsoft Office 2003 or 2007 or IBM Lotus Symphony. When changes are made and saved, other users who are looking at the file will see the changes in real time. Only one person at a time can be an Editor, the person who has active control over the document and can make changes to it. Edit control can easily be passed back and forth among multiple users. Requires the one-time installation of the eXpresso Office Controller. There is also a separate eXpresso Plug-in available for Excel.

    Cost:
    Lotus Live trial evaluation is free for 30 days.
    Lotus Live subscriptions start at $7 per user per month. The eXpresso application within LotusLive is $1 per user per month.

    Additional information:
    How to use eXpresso (video): http://goo.gl/EOhWM
    Watch a Brief Demo (video – right side of the page): http://goo.gl/RngBm
    Multiple User Collaboration (web page): http://goo.gl/Z5T5X
    Frequently Asked Questions (web page): http://goo.gl/Yb8ko

  3. Tom February 24, 2012 at 9:38 am #

    Hi David, great post and helpful to see all the tools out there. I’d just like to add SDL Xopus to that list. Shameless plug, but it’s a browser-based XML authoring tool designed for creating and collaborating on structured content without the complexity. Works with any type of XML and is designed for non-technical writers and content contributors who need to be involved in the the workflow, but don’t have the skills to use dedicated desktop authoring tools for XML. You can play with the demos here http://xopus.com/demos.html

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