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.


Some Great Online Notetaking Tools

Regular readers of this blog have probably figured out by now that we are big fans of everything Google; so it was very disappointing to me to discover that the company decided to stop development of the great Google Notebook.  I used to use Google Notebook all the time -- it was a great way to capture snippets of information from the web and keep them all in one place, with different notebooks for different topics.

I've since moved on to using Evernote as my primary notetaking tool -- I like it better because it allows me to access and take notes from three different locations -- a web browser, a stand-alone software application, and an iPhone application.  That's why I was glad to see that Evernote was all over the Google Notebook decision, and is offering users of the discontinued service the opportunity to import all their notebooks over to Evernote.

Over on Twitter, people were asking me why I used an online notebook.  Here are the five top ways I use Evernote:

  • As my personal web archive -- rather than bookmark a page, I simply clip it to Evernote and keep it forever.
  • As a research tool -- I create a notebook and throw all my research snippets (whole pages, excerpts) into it.
  • Travel planning -- when I visit a city, I create a notebook for restaurants, hotel and sightseeing information.
  • Meeting notes -- I keep notes from all of my meetings within Evernote.
  • As my digital filing cabinet -- I keep lists and all sorts of other information there.  It's all searchable!

Perhaps Evernote is not for you.  No worries -- there are many other options, including these 17 Noteworthy Alternatives to Google Notebook.  No matter which tool you use, I think you'll find that an online notebook is a good way to have access to your important thoughts and notes no matter where you happen to be.


Sharing Your Google Docs with the World?

At its core, Google Docs is really a wiki tool.   It's essentially a web page that anyone with access can edit.  What makes it different from other wikis are the more powerful word processing features, as well as the ability to save your documents to multiple types of formats.

To make sure you don't turn a Google Doc into a wiki that the entire world can edit, it's important to make sure you use the right sharing options.  Wired wrote about it this past week (Google Docs Design Flaw May Fool You Into Making Your Docs Editable by Anyone), and I figured it was worth an explanation over here.   Head over there for the full article, but the gist is this:  when you share a Google Doc with someone, make sure you select the right options so that you don't grant "edit" access to the whole world.  The "Sharing" interface could be a little bit confusing, leading users to unintentionally make their documents visible -- and editable -- by anyone, just like Wikipedia.

The Wired folks say (as do I) that this may not be news to anyone -- but in the event someone reading this blog may get confused when choosing privacy options, we've done our part in passing the message on.

Google Docs -- Still a Risk for the Casual User?

How secure are your Google Docs?  If you use Gmail, you may recall that a few months ago Google turned on SSL (Secure Socket Layer) encryption -- the protocol that encrypts connections to prevent your email from being hijacked.  So, great -- your email is reasonably safe from hackers.  But what about your Google Docs?  According to ReadWriteWeb in Your Google Docs May Be Open to Hijacking, not if you have a basic account.  If you happen to be using the paid Google Apps Premier or Education editions, you have SSL encryption.  SSL is not, however, an automatic option for users of free Google Docs.

Now that's not entirely true -- if you're a free Google Docs user and you want to encrypt your documents, all you really need to do is type in HTTPS when entering the URL for Google Docs; that will give you an encrypted connection.  Also, according to ReadWriteWeb you can also get a secure connection if you click to other services from the Gmail navigation menu (at the top left of the page).  However, for most of you this probably isn't the best solution.

Again, another reason why, at least for now, Google Docs (the free version, anyway) is not quite ready to permanently store your legal documents. 

Online Documents Still Only for Casual Use

In September, I posted Is Online Word Processing on the Rise?, which included a poll asking readers what tool they primarily use for word processing.  Microsoft Word won hands down, with 58% of the vote.  Google Docs came in near the bottom with 12%, and there were no votes for other online word processing tools.  These results are similar (if not a bit higher) to the findings of Compete, which measured traffic to Google Docs; the results are summarized here.  It found that although traffic to Google Docs grew 158% in the past 12 months, only about 2.4% of the adult online population was using the service.  Even more interesting is the statistic that the average user only spends about 5 minutes per month on the site.

What can you do on a Google Docs page in only 5 minutes per month?  Certainly not create a full-fledged document.  Whatever is going on during those 5 minutes, the Compete study demonstrates that Google Docs attracts primarily casual users, and that online word processing services still aren't ready for enterprise use.

Is Online Word Processing Use on the Rise?

What is your main word processing tool?  According to a poll taken over at ReadWriteWeb, 49% use Microsoft Word, which is not all that surprising.  But what is interesting is the number of respondents who primarily use an online word processor -- around 21 percent.  Google Docs accounts for most of that number, with around 15 percent of the total.  This is a six percent increase from ReadWriteWeb's poll last year.

We suspect that most lawyers are still using a desktop word processing program -- Microsoft Word, or perhaps that old standby WordPerfect?  We'd like to ask our readers the same question:  which word processor do you use most often?  Please answer below: