Online collaboration on the cheap: 20 free and low-cost tools

From brainstorming apps to full-blown project managers, these inexpensive tools can help your team work together.

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Bubbl.us

Bubbl offers free and simple, but stylish, mind mapping. Mind maps can be started instantly from the home page, and you can register to save your mind maps for future use.

Bubbl.us
Bubbl.us has a slick, glossy interface that makes it fun to use.

MindMeister and Spinscape

These two mind-mapping services offer real-time collaboration, mind-map storage and sharing, file attachments and other perks such as offline map creation and editing, customizable user permissions, iPhone access and SSL encryption.

MindMeister
Plentiful keyboard shortcuts make it easy to throw ideas together with MindMeister.

Both offer limited free versions, but you'll need to sign up for the premium or business plan to get all the bells and whistles. Spinscape Premium is $9.99 per month; MeisterLabs' MindMeister Business is $9 per user per month.

Document creation, review and annotation

Online tools to help you collaborate on documents and presentations have evolved drastically in the past several years, making it easy for you and your partners to work side by side, even with half the globe between you.

For documents that evolve over time with new information, wikis are incredibly useful. Simple editing tools let you and other team members add new information, and automatic revision tracking makes it easy to roll back to previous versions.

For more advanced tasks, online word processors, spreadsheets and presentation tools make creating traditional office documents collaboratively as easy as using Microsoft Office. It's even possible for several people to work on a single document at the same time.

Finally, if you're less concerned with letting others create, edit or add to documents and more concerned with making it easy for several people to review and comment on materials, a reviewing service such as TextFlow or ReviewBasics might be a better option than a wiki or online office suite.

Wikidot and Wikispaces

There are hundreds of hosted wiki services available; two of my favorites are Wikidot and Tangient's Wikispaces. Wikidot's WYSIWYG interface makes editing a breeze even for nontechnical users, while Wikispaces' ability to export HTML pages and PDFs makes it well suited to generating documentation for wide distribution.

Both offer basic free (ad-supported) hosted wikis as well as affordable premium plans (from $50 a year) with features such as invitation-only access, custom themes, file hosting and the ability to map your own domain name to your wiki.

Wikidot
Wikidot pages can be edited using toolbars or standard wiki formatting codes.
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