Free and easy ways to work with a community online

JPCT 150713 Alan Stainer. Photo by Derek Martin
JPCT 150713 Alan Stainer. Photo by Derek Martin

Last week I hinted at ways you can use the tools online to add workflow, by categorising different posts within a Google+ Community.

Well, it turns out there is much more to it than that. You can of course use categories to organise your information, but what can you do if you are drafting a report with multiple contributors? It wouldn’t be practical to simply share each amendment separately.

If you are using a Facebook group, you might have noticed the Files tab. Inside there are two buttons, ‘Create Doc’ and ‘Upload File.’

Using the first button gives you the opportunity to create a basic text document from within the Facebook page. Formatting options are available to make things bold, italic or underlined, plus the option to create lists, but that is it. If you choose to upload a file, contributors can then download the file, edit it locally and upload a revision.

In both cases group members can comment, just like they do on any normal post. In fact, each file you create appears as a post, with space for you to write something. Perhaps an introduction to the file being shared, or a question about it.

Two problems stood out like a pair of sore thumbs while testing this. While multiple people can edit a Facebook Doc at the same time, the last edit that is saved overwrites everything else, which means edits will be lost. Also if you are working on a Word document with multiple revisions (or any other type of file upload), you end up with multiple versions of the same file being downloaded to yours and everyone else’s computers that are contributing. Not the most efficient way to do things! Another downside is that the files all appear in chronological order. So no organising things into folders like you are used to doing on your computer at home or at work.

Google+ Communities do not allow you to create documents directly, or upload them to a special area for the community. However, Google+ itself is heavily integrated with Google Drive, which means cloud storage and Google Docs to the uninitiated. Just having a Google account means you have access to a full suite of productivity software.

Here is a practical example of how it all fits together. Say you are collaborating with people from across the globe on a project. It might be something to do with the arts, business, a sporting event or something else. You can set up a private Google+ community to house all of the communications, while also setting up a shared folder within Google Drive. Once you have created a document, you can share it directly with your fellow collaborators in the community, just by clicking ‘Share’ from within the document. Clicking on the resulting ‘attachment’ takes you straight to the document, that you can then edit in real time with others. Yes, multiple editors can make changes simultaneously. You can also add comments and suggest amendments directly on the page.

Everything I have mentioned above is available for free from both Facebook and Google.

Alan Stainer