Collaboration on the Go

 PC World had a nice article back in October called 10 Killer iPhone Apps for Business Collaboration.  The article discusses file sharing, and mentions one of my favorite apps, Dropbox.  The ability to access every single one of my documents from my phone or any other mobile device is huge - and there are collaboration features that you can use to assign files to team members, or see when a file has been updated or viewed.  

You'll also find mention of some mind-mapping tools.  I'm not quite convinced of doing mind-mapping on a small screen like you have with the iPhone.  I currently use the MindMeister iPad app, and it's a much friendlier environment for doing mind-mapping.  

There are also tools that allow you to manage your Basecamp projects - I haven't used Basecamp in some time, but it's a great project management tool - and having a mobile interface to manage projects is a terrific extension.

Give some of the apps in the article a look - they have some great collaboration features.

Let's Meet Up in Washington, D.C.!

 [url=]Dennis Kennedy[/url] and I will be in Washington, D.C. this week for the ABA Law Practice Management Section Fall Meeting.  It has been awhile since Dennis and I have been in the same town at the same time, along with a lot of other legal technology folks.  So we decided to have a meetup where we could get together, have a drink or a bite, and talk blogging, twitter, legal technology, or whether my Texas Rangers actually have a chance of beating the Yankees.

Here are the details:
Date: October 22, 2010
Time: Officially, maybe 7:00-ish, but really whenever two or more people show up.
Place: Lobby of the JW Marriott Hotel, 1331 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC (looks like there's lobby seating and a lounge) - this is the meeting hotel for the ABA LPM meeting.
Who's invited:
1. Readers of this blog post, of course
2. Listeners to The Kennedy-Mighell Report podcast
3. Law-related bloggers (and non-law-related bloggers)
4. Law-related tweeters (and non-law-related tweeters)
5. People interested in law practice management, legal technology and the use of social media by the legal profession
If you're in D.C. and are interested in showing up, RSVP at our Tweetup invitation.  See you there!

Project Management Tools on the Cheap

 Continuing along my theme this week of using more low-tech ways to get things done, today I want to talk about project management.  When I think about this subject, my thoughts go automatically to Microsoft Project, which is one of the best, most fully-featured software tools for project management.  But there are literally dozens of other project management tools out there, both stand-alone software or via a web service.  You can check out just a few of them on our Collaboration Tools Project Management page.

But maybe you don't have the cash to buy MS Project, or the online tools you find just don't get the job done for you.  You can certainly track projects using simpler, less expensive tools, and here I'm primarily thinking about Excel.  This article on 15 Useful Excel Templates for Project Management and Tracking offers some terrific suggestions on using templates from Microsoft or other companies to track your project.  One of the sites mentioned is Vertex42, a great provider of spreadsheet templates for Excel, OpenOffice, and Google Docs.  Many of the templates provided on that site are free, and some available for a modest fee.  Of course, the Microsoft templates are free - and also have some great project management tools.  Give them a look.

Teleconferencing Best Practices

 In our book and elsewhere, we talk all the time about the latest tools that can help you work better with others.  But there are tried and true collaboration tools that are definitely more low-tech than some of the things we like to recommend.  One example is the teleconference.  Lawyers have been conferencing with clients, colleagues, courts, experts, and others for years - and even though it's pretty low-tech, it can fail miserably if it isn't used well.  I've been through a lot of painful conference calls, and often, technology has nothing to do with it.

That's why I was happy to come across an old article published over at the New York Times called Top 10 Teleconferencing Tips.  The article offers some solid, common-sense ideas for making sure your next teleconference comes off without a hitch.  Although it does include some technology that I like to use when scheduling calls, like Tungle or WhenIsGood, it also offers some simple tips like "Make sure that the meeting starts on time."  Give it a read, even if you think you've got the whole teleconference thing down.

2009 Update Version of Our Collaboration Tools Book: Want to Review It?

We've updated our book, The Lawyer's Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies, for 2009 with some new material that is included on a CD with the book. The CD includes a new chapter on tips, an article on trends, forms, audio and other updates. The CD itself can be ordered through through the ABA Web Store via this link (the book itself is here). The book is also available through Amazon.

We're also looking for a few people with a strong interest in the the book and a good audience for the book that we can send review copies to. If that might be you, please get in touch with us and tell us about your interest and audience. We can then work with our publisher to get you a review copy. Of course, we'd hope that you would then publish a review. You can get in touch by using the form on our contact page, leaving a comment to this post, emailing us personally, or contacting us through Twitter (@collabtools, @denniskennedy or @tommighell).



Document Collaboration in Second Life

I joined the virtual world Second Life a couple of years ago, but never really got into it -- I mostly just flew around looking at things, and the only people I ever saw were playing casino games.  I'm always amazed when I hear how people are using the virtual world to collaborate and work with others.

Did you know you can also collaborate on documents in Second Life?  Here's a great video on EtherPad Real Time in World Text Collaboration from the Second Life English BlogEtherPad is one of the new document creation sites that literally allows you to see changes to the text in real time; it's not a full-featured document editor -- it's pretty much just text -- but it's great in terms of collaboration possibilities.

Why use it in Second Life?  A couple of reasons; first, your group can discuss the document as it's being edited, via the Second Life chat feature.  You can also invite an unlimited number of people to review the document without giving them actual editing access.  All they need is a Second Life account.

And I think that it's not just EtherPad that allows this functionality -- it's any site that publishes a URL for its document.  While Google Docs don't have their own dedicated URL, Google Spreadsheets do -- so you can probably work on spreadsheets within Second Life as well.

Editing Web Pages

I know, I know -- we need another document creation tool like we need...another wiki tool, right?  There are a ton of document creation tools, and chances are you have chosen your favorite and are sticking with it.  So am I.  But here's a site that takes the document creation idea a step further, in a pretty cool way.  Shutterborg is a pretty basic word processing tool, one that I would never trade for Google Docs.  But it does offer one option the others don't -- the ability to open and edit a web page.

When you first go to the site, Shutterborg gives you three options:  New Document, Open from Disk, and Open from Web.  Click Open from Web, and enter a URL.  Voila!  The web page opens in your browser, but in editable format.  You can edit this page and then save it as a PDF or Word Doc, or even in HTML.   I personally don't have the need to edit web pages all that often, but who knows -- maybe you do.


Using Collaboration Tools to "Face the New Reality"

We at Lawyer's Guide to Collaboration Tools love the writings of Michael Sampson, and a couple of weeks ago he posted a great piece titled:  How to Manage Your Business in a Recession: "#1 Reset Priorities to Face the New Reality".  In this new age of budget cutbacks, businesses are looking for new ways to help its employees work together, or work with others.  He mentions two specific items that resonate with me:

  • Expense Management for Meetings.  With the new fantastic video and web conferencing programs available, remote meetings are becoming a more attractive - and economical - option for businesses.  As Michael says:  "[r]emember, it's the cost of telepresence in comparison to the alternative that signals whether it's a prudent financial investment, not the out-of-pocket cost per se." 
  • Get Out of Managing Projects in Email.  As we state in our book, email is a necessary communications tool, but it's a lousy collaboration tool.  If you're managing your projects (or lawsuits, or transactions) through email, starting thinking about whether tools like Sharepoint, Basecamp, or Central Desktop might make more sense.

Mike's article is a great read -- give it a look.

Free Podcast Interview on Collaboration Tools and Technologies

We have recorded a roughly 14-minute podcast in which we talk about some of the main themes of our book and add a few new insights into the subject of collaboration tools and technologies. You can download an mp3 (right click on the link and click on "save link as . . .") of the podcast here

We also wanted to remind you that we have also created a Twitter identity for the book. If you follow us at @collabtools on Twitter, you'll get regular reports with links to helpful articles and blog posts, tips, and pointers about collaboration.

As many of you already know, we'll also be speaking on collaboration tools at ABA TECHSHOW 2009. We hope to see you there, especially since one of the sessions we'll do is a roundtable "unconference" session where we'll let the audience set the agenda to cover the issues they most want to learn. Be aware that there's still time to take advantage of the $200 "early bird" discount on registration for TECHSHOW. 



Eating Our Own Collaboration Tools Dog Food

Last night, Tom and I were finishing up work on a new project (that I now realize as I write this, I might not be able to disclose quite yet).However, it is definitely related to our book and collaboration.

I thought it might be instructive to describe the tools and techniques we actually used as we worked to finish this project.

We were working, simultaneously, on several articles, a list, some forms and an audio file.

First, we exchanged emails to confirm our to-do lists and the division of labor.

I had the job of preparing a couple of first drafts. I went first to Google Docs to do those.

We also opened up a Skype instant messaging session so we could send quick messages back-and-forth, especially to get quick answers to questions.

When I finished a first draft, I'd share the document with Tom so he could access it in Google Docs.

By the time, I had finished drafts, Tom had emailed me Word versions of other documents he was finishing up with revisions marked with Track Changes.

We used Skype to alert each other about areas to pay special attention to or questions we had about the documents, as well as share some ideas.

I marked my changes  to Tom's documents in Word with Track Changes and emailed the documents back to Tom to finalize so he could submit them as Word documents.

We were also using Skype to make decisions about going forward with preparing an audio file from a recording of one of our presentations and making a last-minute decision to add another list to our set of materials.

Tom took my first drafts out of Google Docs, put them into Word documents and used Track Changes to show his edits.

While he was doing this, I used Audacity to do some clean-up and light editing of the audio file.

Tom then sent me the edited Word documents, which I checked and made minor revisions to, again using Track Changes. I also used Skype instant messaging to discuss a change Tom made that I thought made a different point than the one I had intended. We discussed that and decided on the final wording. I then emailed the Word documents back to Tom to finalize (Tom was taking charge of submitting all of our materials.)

Once I finished the audio file (approx. 50 megabytes), I used YouSendIt to transfer the large file to Tom, who received notice that it was available and downloaded it.

We then compared noted and checked our lists using Skype IMand determined that we we were done.

Tom then assembled all of the files and used (which he prefers for its ability to handle multiple files) to send all of the files in, beating our deadline by a day.

We then used Skype IM to get caught up on other things we had been doing.

Some takeaways:

1. We actually use the collaboration tools we write and talk about.

2. We like having a tool box of collaboration tools for different purposes rather than being concerned with a single all-purpose collaboration tool.

3. Different tools work well for different purposes.

4. Even in the same project you might use a number of different tools to do the same types of thins.

5. We really like the way you can open a constant communications channel to help you work by using instant messaging.

We invite your comments.