I love Google docs – it has changed and saved my academic life. It made working on powerpoint presentations for group project so much easier. Instead of one person having to make the whole thing, or each person making a section and one person still having to pull it all together, each could just do their part, and proofread and make suggestions for others’ parts. I’ve also used a basic doc and a spreadsheet. One feature I didn’t like was not being able to save something to my computer that I hadn’t started; in one of my group projects, someone else began the powerpoint, and while I can access it, it seemed to be the case that I couldn’t just save a copy on my computer.
A collaboration tool isn’t always the easiest way to go though. There have been some situations in which several people are working on an entire thing, and it becomes hard to track who did what, so I didn’t know who to talk to to go over changes. Another time I was writing a paper with a partner, and we thought about using an online based tool, but decided that since we really worked on it one at a time, attaching the paper to email – the old fashioned way – worked best for us. I liked to compare what he sent me to the draft I last had (I know you can track and see changes in Word, but sometimes I find side by side easier to process), and we worked in large chunks, taking turns, so we only had to send things back and forth a couple times.
This brings up a point that comes up a lot in 2.0 tools: you don’t have to use them just because they are cool or new or perfect for some tasks. Different tasks and different people need different tools. I think people are becoming more aware of this; they are realizing that instead of having a blog what they really need is a wiki, or that doing a podcast makes their content much more interesting, and it may or may not need a blog to go along with it.