A Cloud on the Horizon
There is much written about "the cloud" and whether lawyers should "be on the cloud." Going on the cloud basically means using services on the internet or software as a service ("SaaS"). This article will not discuss the many pros and cons of such a decision, which ultimately come down to security versus cost.
Rather the purpose here is to highlight an variety of clever, single purpose online applications that do one thing well, for free or at low cost. Most of these were not built with attorneys in mind, but all of them at one time or another could prove useful to an time-strapped in-house counsel.
The tools or services are organized by their general function, and if is something you would find useful, I recommend trying several in the category to find the one that is most intuitive, has specific features you value or feels most comfortable to you. Note that some of the descriptive language was lifted from the product website.
Rather than exchange endless emails with a number of people trying to coordinate a specific time, try one of these online schedulers.
Doodle is a free easy scheduling tool, with no registration requirement. Premium fee-based service also available.
Meet-o-matic is an easy meeting scheduler. Advanced fee-based "private label" service is available.
Meeting Wizard, another free online scheduler.
Time To Meet is a web-based meeting scheduler, takes care of time zone differences and can automatically synchronize your calendar from Outlook, iCal or Google. Requires registration.
Connecting with Peers:
Also known as "Social Media" these tools allow you to set up an online space where you can communicate, share documents, and generally collaborate.
Constant Contact is good for broadcast email and event markets. Fee-based service although they do allow for a free trial.
Facebook Groups when you want to share with a small group of people? Just create a group, add friends, post updates, poll the group, chat with everyone at once, and more. Requires that all participants have Facebook accounts.
LinkedIn Groups can be used to help you stay informed and keep in touch with people that share your interests. Be sure to check out the NJCCA LinkedIn Group.
Twitter is an online social networking service and micro blogging service that lets users send and read text-based posts of up to 140 characters.
Google Groups lets you put all of your discussions in one place with favorites and folders and customize your posts with fonts, colors, and images.
Google + is similar to Facebook, a full featured sharing service, although not yet as extensive.
Proboards is the largest host of free forums on the Internet. Compatible with smart phones
Pbworks is a fee-based, online team collaboration, share files, and manage projects within a secure, reliable environment.
These tools allow you to "crowd-source" or invite multiple people to participate online with whatever the project might be.
Edistorm is a web-based service for collaboratively creating and recording brainstorming sessions. Think of virtual sticky notes on a wall. "Add, discuss and organize ideas from multiple locations before, during and after (or instead of) your meetings." Includes instant voting function.
Board800 is a service that lets you create a collaborative whiteboard space, and draw shapes and add text. To use Board800 visit the homepage, click "start drawing," and then click "create a new session." Once you've started a white boarding session you can invite people to join you by sharing the session name/number assigned to your whiteboard.
Wise Mapping is a free collaborative graphic organizer. Each cell can be dragged and moved around losing any text or text formatting. The resulting "mind maps" can be shared with others via email, URL link, or be embedded into a blog or website.
Slatebox is a slick tool for collaboratively creating organizational charts. Slatebox offers a variety of good-looking templates and intuitive tools for designing and editing charts. Just select a template and use the visual editor to put text and images in boxes. Those boxes can be resized and rearranged using the drag and drop editor.
Bubbl.us is a free brainstorming/graphic organization tool that allows users to collaboratively create and edit, but requires registration. Users can use their keyboard or use the drag and drop interface to arrange elements, and end product can be exported to a JPEG, PNG, or as an XML or HTML file.
Cacoo is a collaborative diagram creation resource that allows you to draw shapes, type, and drag and drop elements. You can also upload images to include in your diagrams. The collaborative aspect of Cacoo allows you to invite other people to contribute to your diagrams and chat with your collaborators in real-time while you work. Potentially of interest to IP attorneys working with scientists.
Exploratree is a free graphic outlining tool that lets you analyze or appraise anything in a structured way. It has numerous pre-made graphic templates, called "thinking guides" or you can create your own template. Guides can be created collaboratively, good for working in groups to design projects together.
CoSketch is a free and easy-to-use collaborative white boarding tool. CoSketch can be used to draw on an uploaded image, map or other graphic. You can invite anyone to become a collaborator by sending them the associated link, and chat with them while you work.
These tools should help you perfect and improve your presentations.
Powerpoint is a staple in most offices. Now Microsoft lets you crowd source the presentation preparation using "SkyDrive" a PowerPoint web app that allows you to assign portions of a presentation to different folks. This is ideal for a program moderator to keep his panel on a common platform with no rework. Ed Note: Before drafting your next presentation watch "Life and Death by PowerPoint" and then read Presentation Best Practices.
Keynote lets you create presentations with "powerful yet easy-to-use tools and dazzling effects" on your iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch. You can also save and email slideshows as PowerPoint files.
Prezi is an online, collaborative presentation building tool, lets you easily insert images, videos, YouTube videos, PDFs, or other media. You can choose a template and or theme from their library and customize it. The presentation can be made Online and Offline, and it supports real-time collaboration.
Games & Activities:
Any attorney with training and compliance responsibilities would be wise to consider the value of games and interactivity as a component of your training initiatives.
SuperTeacherTools is an assortment of technology tools for teaching that are quick and easy to download, learn, and use. Ideal for employee training and compliance these tools mimic readily recognized games, such as Jeopardy, Speed Match, Who wants to be a Millionaire, Hangman and others.
Wordle an application for generating "word clouds" from any text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source, and let you zero in on the most important points based on frequency. A reveling test is to load text from an article into Wordle, to visualize the predominant concepts, based on frequency of the words included.
JigsawPlanet lets you create online jigsaw puzzles from your images. This is very addictive and a potential time sink, but I would be interested in hearing from in anyone who has a creative legal or training application for this tool.
ClassTools.net "Create free educational games, quizzes, activities and diagrams in seconds! Host them on your own blog, website or intranet! No signup, no passwords, no charge!" Flash templates include some business applications like Venn diagrams, automated timelines, living graph, and priority chart. Includes video tutorials for quick start.
Games for Trainers is a wide assortment of Board, Brain, Card, Icebreakers and teambuilding excercises for trainers and facilitators. One neat feature is the ability to upload a PowerPoint presentation (up to 200 slides) by "adding game questions, discussion points, additional information, sounds and bonus points to any slide."
LearningWare is not a free site, but it has the typical business related games. Worth noting is the ability to add interactive game elements to online webinars.
Survey and Feedback Tools:
Every once in a while you need to do a survey. Whether it is to collect data, test assumptions or gather feedback, here are some easy options.
SurveyMonkey is the most popular online survey tool. It is easy to use, and comes with various canned surveys for customers, products, employees, performance research and more. The system collates and aggregates responses, however free surveys are limited to ten questions, but more elaborate fee-based options are available.
Survey Gizmo is not a free service, but they have a 14 day free trial. A full featured survey tool, fully brandable, includes graphics and videos, Subscription includes phone support.
Question Pro creates online surveys either using a wizard, a template or by uploading your surveys directly from word files. Survey distribution options include email, embedded surveys, pop-up surveys, post to Facebook, Twitter, etc. Real-time data collection, plus online survey analysis, frequency report, cross-tabulation, and data export. The first survey is free, but pricing options are reasonable.
Constant Contact Surveys Free 60 day trial, provides all the standard professional features.
Google Docs Forms "is a useful tool to help you plan events, send a survey, give students a quiz, or collect other information in an easy, streamlined way. A Google form is automatically connected to a spreadsheet with the same title. When you send or share a form, recipients’ responses will automatically be collected in that spreadsheet." Free, but it is Google.
VolunteerSpot "Free and easy online signup sheets, volunteer scheduling software, and volunteer management software help coordinate volunteers quickly and easily."
For attorneys with training and compliance responsibilities, these virtual classrooms are indispensible.
WizIQ while it is not free, it lets you share anything, including your desktop. Supports chats, virtual whitebards, breakout sessions, participant polling, and recording of live sessions. They do provide a thirty day free trial.
AnyMeeting a free Web Conferencing & Webinar Service. No time limits or restrictions, up to 200 attendees per meeting, screen sharing, conference calling and more. Requires registration.
Video Chat Services:
For those occasions when a phone call isn't enough, these services provide video chat capabilities. To fully participate you need a laptop or PC with video capability, i.e., a camera.
Skype provides free Voice over IP (VOIP) telephone, also talk face-to-face with live video for free and/or low cost.
Join.me Is a simple secure screen sharing tool for meetings on the fly. Get everybody on the same page or screen to review documents or train staff.
Oovoo provides free video chat capabilities for up to six people. Requires download of a software client. Features include HD/high resolution video, call recording, mobile capability, desktop sharing, large file transfers and text chat. Premium subscription service available.
Specifically tools that let you organize, share and transfer documents across multiple platforms and devices.
Livebinders collects and presents your resources online, think of it as an online 3-ring binder. Share documents in a easy to use format, that looks like pages in a book. Format independent content is readily updated.
Scribd is a social publishing site, where tens of millions of people share original writings and documents. It is not private but a good site to publish information you might want to distribute to a large audience. Think of it as YouTube for writers.
Evernote is a collection of products that help you remember and act upon ideas, projects and experiences across all the computers, phones and tablets you use. You can capture information and save information from websites, photos and even record some audio notes.
OneNote, a Microsoft product, lets you access, organize and share your documents, photos & more from your pc, phone or the web, however it is not free.
File Sharing on the Cloud:
Services that let you synchronize your documents across digital platforms, share files and collaborate with peers.
Dropbox is a free service that lets you bring your digital documents (also photos and videos) anywhere and to easily share them.
Live Mesh is a Windows product that keeps your work files, pictures, Office settings, bookmarks and other files in sync across multiple devices.
Google Docs is one of the many Google tools, this one to create and share your work online and access your documents from anywhere. Upload documents, spreadsheets, presentations, etc. and access from any device, and share and collaborate with colleagues.
Box.net is a collaboration tool that simplifies online file storage and connects teams in online workspaces. While not a free service, they do provide a free trial, the prices are modest, and it has been adopted by many companies.
iCloud is an Apple service, stores your music, photos, documents, and more and wirelessly pushes them to all your Apple devices.
Huddle offers secure external access across the firewall and is available on mobile devices including iPhone, iPad and BlackBerry, alas it is not a free service.
Tools for those occasions when only a video will do, for training, depositions, etc.
YouTube is the pre-eminent video publishing and sharing website. In addition to videos of kittens playing the piano, YouTube has proven to be a valuable site for a wide variety of training videos. While it may not be an obvious choice for lawyers, you can post video content that is hidden and available only to folks you allow to view it. Also check out YouTube Downloader a popular, free utility that enables you to download and save online videos to your PC (copyright rules do apply).
Vimeo is a simple to use video sharing site, either open or shared privately. You can even set up private channels and groups.
A final word of caution, to quote Jonathan Zittrain, a professor of internet law at Harvard and a co-founder of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, "If what you are getting online is for free, you are not the customer, you are the product."