Better Collaboration Tools Than Google

David Strom

Google has certainly been busy building a lot of different software tools that can be used for collaboration, including Google Docs, Google Voice, Google Sites (formerly Jotspot) and Google Calendar. But there are a number of specialized tools that are more useful than these Google services for particular circumstances. These can be big productivity boosts for enterprises. Before we take a closer look, let's explore three simple reasons why it is worthwhile to bother with any of these technologies:


First, they can help cut down on e-mail back-and-forth. While we all love and use e-mail, sometimes we don't use it to our best advantage. How many e-mails does it take to schedule a meeting? Approve a document? Work on a presentation for a client? These collaboration technologies can move these and other common tasks into the fast lane and prevent inbox build-up.
Second, they help build connections to remote workers. As organizations become more geographically distributed, you need better ways to tie workers together. Yes, instant messaging was a good first step, but that is just useful for finding out if someone is near his or her computer. These tools take things to the next level and actually make it easier for two or three people to work together in real time, no matter where they might be sitting.
Finally, save money. It doesn't hurt that many of these technologies are cheap or free to implement and don't require months of IT staff time, requirements documents and training. Many of them are easy to use, running inside a Web browser with little else required, and can be quickly deployed. None of these require special skills and even the more complex features can be learned on the fly as interest increases in the service. Think instant ROI and paybacks measured in hours or days.
Let's look at six common tasks and the difference between the Google technology and one that might be better suited for that particular purpose.
One of the Google services that is getting a lot of coverage is Google Wave, which is a combination of wiki, real-time messaging and real-time shared typing so several people can collaborate on a document. You can "playback" the conversation to see what happened in the past. This is Mashable's analysis and perhaps a good place to start. Here is another article by Frank Olhorst. Given that Wave is free but in limited release, by invitation only for the moment, a better alternative might be SocialText, which offers a similar collection of services, now for $6 per user per month. SocialText also offers free trials for up to 50 users.
  • Schedule a common meeting. Google Calendar is a great tool if you and your spouse want to share a common family calendar, or if you still have an assistant that can schedule your meetings for you. But if you are trying to converge on a particular time in the near future to hold a meeting, then it really doesn't work. There are a number of tools that can do this more easily, and the one that I like is The meeting organizer sets up a few basic parameters and the service sends out an initial invite e-mail and keeps things organized, without clogging your inbox with a lot of back-and-forth.
  • Work on a document in real time. Google Docs makes it easy to create and upload a Word-compatible document with a decent amount of fonts and frippery if you must. But what if several colleagues have to co-author the document? Then it is less useful. A free service called allows you to see real-time edits to the same document, with each author's contribution highlighted in a different color, and an IM-like messaging window off to the side if you want to communicate quick thoughts. I used this to create a document from scratch within an hour with a group of people that would have taken us days at best without it. There are paid versions that operate behind corporate firewalls too.
  • Create presentation slides. Yes, Google Docs has the ability to upload and share a series of PowerPoint slides. But if you want to collect several presentations together, share comments on them, and add an audio track, then take a look at, which has these features and is free, too.
  • Post to a discussion forum. Google Groups has been around for some time. It allows ad-hoc creation of discussion groups and many people have used them for creating their own communities. The popularity of Twitter has brought several new players into the field, including most notably, which sets up private discussion forums behind corporate firewalls using the same 140-character style interface. The cost is a mere $1 per person per month. There are more than a dozen different such services, and Laura Fitton has a great comparison guide here.
  • Share a spreadsheet. Again, Google Docs allows you to upload your spreadsheets quite easily, but how about when more than one person wants to work on your formulas or create different reports from the data? That is where SmartSheet comes into play. And at $10/month for sharing up to 10 spreadsheets, it is a very reasonable application to build simple databases that don't require a lot of programming support. You can even attach specific files to particular cells in the sheet and there are pre-made templates for project tracking and surveys too.
Google Technology
Alternative Technology
Schedule a meeting
Share a document
Create a presentation
Share a spreadsheet
Post to a forum
All-in-one solution


Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Oct 14, 2009 10:10 PM Anonymous Anonymous  says:
I'm struggling to see how you can possibly compare google wave to socialtext - the two are worlds apart. Perhaps you haven't grasped exactly what both are? Reply
Oct 15, 2009 6:11 AM Anonymous Anonymous  says: in response to Anonymous
Agree, would not have been suprised if this comparision was made by Ross Mayfield :) Reply
Oct 31, 2009 1:10 AM Anonymous Anonymous  says:
It does not sound like the author fully explored the features within Google Docs. Additionally Google ties these all together into a single login without needing to utilize several services. Reply
Nov 4, 2009 6:11 PM Anonymous Anonymous  says:
One has to use the Google tools to really understand how limited, and clunky they can be. I started using them in a business context to understand if they are really a viable option to something like Microsoft. There is a very large room for improvement before Google's office/collaboration software becomes robust. Even using their own browser, Chrome, had challenges. Use the appropriate tool for the job, but know that commercial businesses are driven by customers and their satisfaction to get good products. Wave is still more of a concept that a usable product in my view. It will find its niche, but I think its more visionary at this stage than practical. Reply
Nov 9, 2009 7:11 PM Susan Penny Brown Susan Penny Brown  says:
I'm an Enterprise Strategist and unbiased Vendor Selection Consultant who recently completed an analysis on collaboration technology for the mid-size enterprise. For small and mid-size companies who need an integrated solution and professional front end to their collaboration app, here are a few choices to consider: Reply
Jul 30, 2010 7:07 PM Anonymous Anonymous  says:
Odd that Airset did not get a mention. Free and low cost multi-functional web computers with a nice array of applications. I am a satisfied user, but not affiliated with the company. Reply
Aug 24, 2010 11:08 AM coffee gift coffee gift  says:
dispenses utilize a wonderful website decent Gives many thanks for the hard work to help out people Reply
Aug 24, 2010 11:08 AM coffee gift coffee gift  says:
dispenses utilize a wonderful website decent Gives many thanks for the hard work to help out people Reply
Sep 8, 2010 2:09 PM  says:
"using the right app for the job"It is in our Forums for those who would like to read it, the link is not fully displayed here.Daniel Reply
Sep 8, 2010 2:09 PM  says:
There are so many other aspects that have to be considered for the business user; security and SLA just for starters. I get asked this all the time so we wrote it up here: I think David's most valid point is "using the app for the job". Daniel Reply
Jun 9, 2011 9:06 AM VARGASAmanda23 VARGASAmanda23  says:
If you are willing to buy a car, you would have to get the loan. Moreover, my brother commonly utilizes a commercial loan, which occurs to be really firm. Reply
Aug 25, 2011 6:08 AM rc toys rc toys  says:
we accustomed to using Google Reply

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