by Ben Thomas | July 4, 2016
Your team may not all be located in the same physical location. In fact, a growing number of teams are supported by freelancers who work from home, or by remote teams all over the world — or simply by executives and specialists who travel constantly. The good news is that plenty of tech startups have stepped in to simplify your team’s productivity, with online tools that make it easy to collaborate as though you all worked in the same office.
Some of these tools are targeted specifically at design collaboration, while others are more high-level project management apps. Some focus on image tagging and graphical collaboration, while others are designed to help your team communicate about the creation of forms, mockups, and other elements. Many of them combine the features for all these types of tools – while others are streamlined around a single purpose, which they perform quickly and reliably without getting you tangled up in unnecessary details.
Here are 17 of the most useful tools for online collaboration, along with some specific features that separate each of them from the competition.
It’s often too complicated to manage design revisions and feedback via email – which is why CuePin is designed to be as intuitive as possible. It enables you to simply drag-and-drop images and many other file types from your computer, and organize all of them into project folders. With one click, you can invite an unlimited number of team members and clients to collaborate – and they can each attach “pins” with notes and feedback to any file you’ve uploaded. Team members can reply to those comments, and CuePin tracks the entire commenting and revision history in a scrollable chat thread. The site even keeps track of multiple versions of each file in the project, making it easy to move back and forth between versions and compare notes. Disclaimer: we own CuePin and wrote this article, to share some competitive and non-competitive products, in a non-biased manner.
This tool takes the classic idea of note cards, and expands it into a feature-rich interface that enables you to remind yourself of upcoming tasks, organize them into groups, and collaborate on them with others. The cards themselves essentially work like Post-It notes — and you can “stick” as many of them to the screen as you’d like. You can then color-code tasks, sort them into groups, set timers for them, and add other group members to specific cards, so they can add and update tasks, too. The site will even generate a progress meter, so you can see how close to schedule you’re staying as you work through the tasks you’ve listed.
Described as an “enterprise social network,” Yammer makes it simple to build a private social network, designed around the needs and tasks of your own business. The site’s interface takes many of the principles of popular social networking sites, like timelines, comments, and news feeds, but puts the site itself entirely under your control. That means every invitations, group, shared document, and all other piece of information shared on the network will be easy for you to track, update, and manage — without giving up any control at all to another social website. If your team collaborates most effectively within a social media environment, Yammer is a handy way to keep your workflow rolling without worrying about who’s seeing your confidential company information.
This tiny but helpful app is designed with one single purpose in mind: it lets you upload an image of an interface — like a web form or an ecommerce page — or just screenshot any page on the web by pasting in its URL. Then you can add notes to specific points on the image, and get feedback and comments on the image from other people you invite. Bounce even includes built-in tools for managing notes from multiple members of your team, and for sharing notes and comments via social media. Although it may not include the robust project management systems of some of these other tools, Bounce is a streamlined way to annotate pages you’ve grabbed from the web.
Based on the timeless model of the physical desk surface, Mural.ly makes it easy to drag-and-drop images, links, text documents, videos, and all sorts of other files onto a digital “drawing board,” where you and collaborators can rearrange them, edit them, and reorganize them as necessary. The site is also very mobile-friendly, which means anyone with a touchscreen device can easily move files around with a simple swipe – in fact, many aspects of this site are designed similarly to popular social networks like Pinterest. But unlike Pinterest, Mural.ly is designed for collaboration, which means you and your team members can edit and collaborate on each file as the project develops.
For any team working with visual images, Design Drop makes it easy to drag-n-drop your file, organize it with other files from the same project, and collect feedback from your collaborators. You can draw directly on the images, post notes, comment on notes that other collaborators have left, and see the history of all notes and replies in a scrollable comment thread — all in real time. Your designs will also be easy to share, because Design Drop generates a unique URL for each annotated image, so you can send it to others via email or social media.
If you’ve ever tried “mind-mapping” before, you already know the basic idea behind MindMeister. You start with a simple idea written in a shape, then connect branches to other ideas — each of which can be a branching-out point for still more ideas, and so on. MindMeister handles all this via a simple and intuitive interface, which makes creating shapes and drawing lines as easy as clicking or tapping. The site even handles color-coding automatically — or you can customize it yourself — which means it’s simple to create an eye-catching mind map for use in presentations and other documents.
For teams that work with a lot of clients, Prevue is designed to make project organization and presentation a breeze. It’s simple to upload your images — and Prevue automatically starts to organize them into project folders, which you can break down by client, or by sub-tasks within each project. You and your collaborators can make notes on each image, and comment on each others’ notes — all of which is tracked in a unified comment history thread. When you’re ready to present your work, the site generates a slick presentation you can show right in your browser — so you can say goodbye to compatibility issues on the day of the big client meeting.
Branded as a “whiteboard in the cloud,” GroupZap really does take the classic whiteboard model and bring it into the world of collaborative web documents. Create a board and add team members, and you’ll all be able to post notes on the board, edit existing notes, move the notes around, and color-code them for easier tracking. GroupZap even automatically keeps a log of who’s changed what, so it’s easy to go back and find the source of any note that’s been added to the board, or to change any edits that’ve been made along the way.
From graphical images to product mockups, Cage organizes all your latest revisions into project folders, and makes it easy for collaborators to add notes. Each note serves as a “post,” which can start a comment thread where each team member shares their own thoughts. Cage also simplifies the processes of getting approvals and uploading new versions, both of which can be handled instantly with the click of a button or the tap of a screen. The site even generates charts of projects involving lots of documents, so you can see at a glance what’s been approved, what still needs work, and what’s in the process of being reviewed.
Just as some of these other tools bring classic concepts like whiteboards and work desks into the cloud, Scribblar takes the idea of the whiteboard, and makes it digital and collaborative. Just create a “room” and invite anyone you’d like. Within that room, you and your collaborators can scribble and draw on the board — as well as attach documents, diagrams, and links, and chat in audio or text, in real time — while you deliver your presentation. Teachers love this tool for presenting lectures to students — but many business people also find it handy for delivering presentations at work.
With a familiar interface and a variety of pre-made templates, Smartsheet can help you manage complex projects with intuitive workflow charts, task spreadsheets, and dynamic information panels that keep all your organization’s most important stats in a central location. Its interface is built around spreadsheets, which work very similarly to the ones every office uses – except that these spreadsheets link to shared drives, to-do lists, calendars, alerts, and a wide range of other adaptive tools that give you data-driven insights on task progress, profits and sales, and the performance of each person on your team.
While many of these tools are designed around a specific mode of collaboration, BinFire is more of a high-level project management tool. Its slick interface makes it easy to create and manage workspaces, dashboards and calendars — and to upload and organize resources for each stage of the project. You’ll also get tools like an interactive whiteboard, task management panels, a collaborative project calendar with automated alerts, and the ability to import and export data in a variety of formats. BinFire also integrates smoothly with other tools like Google Docs and Dropbox, making it easy to organize and track documents from sources all over the cloud.
The Basecamp website has a solid reputation as one of the biggest players in online project management — and with good reason. Its interface makes it easy to upload documents, organize tasks into to-do lists, and even create private wiki-style pages that each person on your team can edit. Additional tools like real-time chat and file-sharing are also built into the same intuitive interface — which means you and your team members will have one centralized place to put your documents, have your conversations, and keep track of everything that still needs to be done.
Whether you’re a team of graphic artists collaborating on an image, or a group of designers prototyping a new product, InVision simplifies the processes of gathering and organizing mockups, creating presentations, discussing modifications, and creating to-do lists. This website is equally comfortable handling sketches, wireframe models, high fidelity designs, and a variety of other forms of data. It integrates all the files in your project, making it easy to find what you need, organize it into your to-do-list, gather notes and recommendations, and generate presentations on the fly.
If you’re looking for an image collaboration tool that’s free and no-frills, Marqueed may be right up your alley. This tool lets you drag an image from anywhere on the web straight into the Marqueed interface — where you can organize it onto a board along with other images. With just a click, you can add a comment to any image, respond to others’ comments, and even doodle on the images and make other little notes. You won’t find a lot of fancy collaborative tools here — but when it comes to fast, free, simple tools for discussing images, this is a good bet.
When it comes to sheer simplicity, Redmark gets high marks. The signup process is minimal — all you’ve got to do is upload an image, invite your clients, and get their feedback. Your clients will never have to sign up at all — they just follow the link you send them, and leave annotations on each image. You’ll be able to track their comments, upload revisions, and keep the project organized from this central location. Redmark automatically saves and logs all revisions, so you’ll always be able to look back over the history of your project, and see how each of the images has evolved over time.
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