It wasn't all that long ago that digital collaboration meant a constant stream of e-mails, or even handing off flash drives from colleague to colleague--hardly a revolution. Lately, though, we're starting to see the promise of collaborative file sharing really start to shine. This means we need to change some habits, but once we've started to make the most of these tools, our workflow can speed up dramatically. Here's a few of the best collaboration tools out there:
Dropbox: This free tool makes file sharing incredibly easy, both between users and across platforms. It starts at 2GB of free storage, but each new user you refer gets 250MB of storage and gives you the same amount, up to a max of 8GB. This streamlines the old process of shuttling files back and forth, but doesn't offer much in the way of collaboration features. Still, for many people, it's all they need and the price is right.
Google Docs: This early entry into the field is still going strong and is adding features all the time. As with Dropbox, the price is right, and it's incredibly easy to import files, work on them from anywhere, and track changes from user to user over time. All you need is a Google account. The interface is intuitive, and while there aren't nearly as many bells and whistles as with some other packages, there's plenty to love.
Office 365: The recently released Office 365 is Microsoft's entry into the world of online collaboration (and subscription-based software). For 6 bucks per month, individuals and small businesses have easy access from almost any device to familiar Office applications, Exchange e-mail, and quite a few separate collaboration tools. For long-time Office users looking to upgrade and stay with Microsoft, this is certainly the way to go.
Box.net: This service is reminiscent of Dropbox, but with many more premium collaboration services added. It starts out with 5GB free storage and some sharing tools, much like Dropbox, but includes goodies like Google apps integration, version history, and text search for $15 or more per month. It's best for business users to whom sharing is more important than active collaboration.
Wiki: This isn't for everyone, but if you set up a wiki (here's how),you can share information with incredible, flexible ease. This is an excellent background info tool for users with at least a bit of tech sophistication, and can make life much easier for colleagues separated by miles or more who need to keep track of ever-changing information.
These tools can make true collaboration a reality for many organizations, but even easy access to shared files can mean a lot. It's simple as can be to get started, even with zero budget, so grab a friend or coworker and get collaborating!