Prepared by Mary Whisner for a presentation to Northwest Justice Project staff
February 18, 2009
There are a number of online tools that make it easier for groups of people to share documents and collaborate. This guide focuses on a few free or low-cost options (rather than, say, Microsoft's SharePoint or high-end "Knowledge Management" systems marketed to large law firms).
Choices to make:
Wikis enable many people to contribute to and edit a collection of documents. The prime example is Wikipedia, a world-wide project with over 75,000 contributors working on 10,000,000 articles in more than 260 languages. But a wiki doesn't have to be huge -- for instance, three people could set up a wiki that they use for just a few weeks while they're organizing a project.
Some other examples:
You can make a wiki public or keep it limited to invited members.
Chris Hayes, Enter the World of the "Wiki", LLRX (July 25, 2004). Good introduction.
Tom Cobb, Public Interest Research, Collaboration, and the Promise of Wikis, 16 Perspectives: Teaching Legal Research & Writing 1 (2007). Describes class at UW School of Law that used a wiki to collaborate and share documents.
Heather Colman, Collaboration Through Wikis at Hicks Morley, LLRX (Jan. 29, 2009). Recounts law firm's experience, starting with DominoWiki and moving to ThoughtFarmer. The first efforts were small, limited to particular practice groups. After people were used to posting and sharing documents, they saw the need to have something firm-wide.
Connie Crosby, The Tao of Law Librarianship: Becoming A Wiki Warrior, LLRX (Jan. 15, 2007). Describes use of wikis for small projects -- e.g., a panel of speakers posting material for people attending a presentation. Also describes using SharePoint for lawyers within a firm.
Michael Angeles, Using a Wiki for Documentation and Collaborative Authoring, LLRX (Nov. 28, 2004).
MediaWiki is the software than runs Wikipedia. It's free, but you need to have a server to run it on.
Several providers have wiki templates and host your wiki:
Google Groups can work as a wiki as well as a discussion list manager. You can set up a group -- open or limited to just the people you invite -- and then each member of the group can easily send email to all the others. (To control overload, each member can also choose whether to get message sent to the group one at a time or bundled at the end of the day or the week.) The discussions are archived so you can look back at what's been said.
You can also upload files -- Word documents, PDFs, pictures -- that everyone can use. And you can create "Pages" -- documents that members can edit, as in a wiki.
Google Docs enables people to share and revise documents. See Google Apps for Business -- Collaboration Tools. A basic version is free; businesses can buy the premier version for $50 per user per year.
Blogs ("web blogs") are sites where people can post quick notes or longer messages. Posts usually display in reverse chronological order -- newest on top. They can be viewed by the world at large, or they can be limited to just a few readers. They can be written by just one person or by a team of people. You can "tag" blog posts to make it easy to retrieve all posts on a given subject. They're generally searchable, too.
Some blog packages (e.g., Wordpress) allow you to set up "pages" (often used for resource lists or descriptions of projects).
For more on blogs, see Blogs & RSS Feeds.