Sometimes you need a no-cost way to work collaboratively and synchronously at a distance. For instance, earlier this year I was a member of a graduate-student team designing an interactive app for the iPad. We had a member in Saudi Arabia, another on the eastern seaboard, and several members spread across the Chicago metro area. We obviously couldn’t meet in person to sketch out ideas and critique them. We needed a way to post design documents, mark them up, and discuss in real time. Fortunately for us, we discovered Twiddla, a collaborative workspace with a free version that proved indispensible.
Twiddla describes itself as a real-time collaboration tool. I liked that it was simple and easy to use; just navigate to http://twiddla.com and click Start a New Meeting:
Twiddla gives you a clean, easy-to-use interface. The toolbar has controls for a virtual whiteboard, tools for adding and annotating documents, images, and web pages, and a real-time collaborative text editor that Twiddla calls an EtherPad. There’s a basic text tool for annotating the display and simple drawing and shapes tools too. Twiddla also offers some fundamental tools to edit and arrange items and a basic administrative tool that allows you to add users and edit your profile.
Once you’re in your meeting room you can edit your profile, invite other users, and load your images, documents, Web pages, or media.
Add and Mark Up Documents
My team needed to be able to see, discuss, and mark up each other’s sketches in real time. Here’s an example of a PDF uploaded to Twiddla and marked up with the drawing tool:
This ability to view and mark up sketches was invaluable to my team, allowing us to review, critique, and iterate in real time, despite being separated by thousands of miles. Twiddla now has a real-time voice tool, but we opted to use Skype for synchronous voice and created a no-cost, real-time collaborative workspace with a combination of ease-of-use and powerful visual tools I haven’t found elsewhere.
While I consider Twiddla far easier to use, more powerful, and better for my purposes than wikis, Google Docs, or Web-conferencing tools like Wimba, it also has extended functionalities like the ability to insert math formulas or upload widgets and code that make it a great collaborative tool for math, science, multimedia, or programming:
Is It Right for You?
There are of course some limitations to the free version. You don’t have a named user account, so you can’t set up a workspace far in advance and send out invitations later. You can’t hold simultaneous meetings, and you’re on your own for tech support. You also can’t archive or save your work for future use, and you can’t have a password-protected private meeting, which might preclude using Twiddla with students in some situations. Paid versions eliminate those shortcomings and add features like unlimited storage, SSL security, custom URLs, and presenter/moderator controls for as little as $14 a month.
However, the free version works really well for me. So if you’re looking for a powerful, no-cost, easy-to-use collaborative workspace, Twiddla deserves your attention. Check it out at http://twiddla.com.