Tools for online academic collaboration?

September 11th, 2008 by shane

A reader writes:

“Dear Academic Productivity,

After having finished a phd project, I am starting a new research project together with a colleague. As a collaborative project requires, well, collaboration and coordination, I wonder if you or perhaps your readers happen to have any good advice, both on best practices and concrete suggestions for web-based collaboration tools.
Some examples of our needs:
* As we’re studying public policy change, the bulk of our empirical material consists of various sorts of text documents (official reports,  government bills, parliamentary minutes, media reports, interview transcripts etc.), some of which are available online. I figure we need a searchable database just to keep track of it all; ideally, it should allow us to archive and annotate full-text documents.
* …or even more ideally: a web-based CAQDAS package. Are there any?
* Reference management: Awaiting an online collaboration version of Zotero, what’s the best way of managing references?
* …and/or sharing reading notes and lit reviews? Now we’re just pouring our reading notes into a blog, which is not an optimal solution.
I’m aware of the basic options available (blogs, wikis, project management software etc), but as they are all aimed for other purposes than research, I’m curious to know what tools and practices other researchers actually use.”

For those not in the know (i.e. myself we recevied this email), CAQDAS is an acronym for “Computer Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis Software,” which can be used to search, organize, categorise, and annotate textual and visual data.

I have asked others the same question as Mr A. Reader, and as of yet I have not found a single tool that captures the needs of academic research groups. I also haven’t encountered any academic research groups that make comprehensive use of  online tools, so I would be interested to hear from our readers in the comments.  

One tool that might fit the bill is wikindx. It allows shared references and annotations and uploading of documents, though you would need to host your own server for its database. New kid on the block is Mendeley, which we should be reviewing soon. It creates a searchable index of your PDF documents, extracts references from them, and has an online shareable reference management system as well. In the above case, if you converted all your supporting documents to PDF it might fit part of the bill.

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25 Responses to “Tools for online academic collaboration?”

  1. IagoNo Gravatar Says:

    We are facing the same issue in my research group and in a number of projects involving people from various labs in different countries. Our material is not only text, both in the process of being put together and finalized as pdf, but also source code, as we work on computer simulation for management of natural resources. I have been tempted to test a mixture of various systems (wiki + document management + real-time sharing of text documents) but always found the resuling system too much of a mammoth, with too much work involved for sharing usernames and password,s etc.

    Also, a system with offline capabilities would be a plus.

    Still searching, but might end up hiring somebody to put something together based on a number of platforms.

  2. Fred HowellNo Gravatar Says:

    You could try – it lets you upload and annotate PDF and Word / OpenOffice documents online, as well as snapshots of HTML web pages. You can email a link to share a document + notes with collaborators (everything is private by default), several people can view and annotate the same document at once, and notes + documents get added to a searchable index (with tags, replies etc). There’s a free version online, or you can get an academic license and run it on your own servers.

  3. jeremyNo Gravatar Says:

    just tried importing metadata from 90 pretty normal journal articles… success rate was around 10% for getting the data 100% and around 35% had more than 1/2 right. it is a good start in an interesting direction though. i think they’d be better off hunting down the doi then pulling the metadata from that.

  4. jeremyNo Gravatar Says:

    that was with mendeley, sorry.

  5. shaneNo Gravatar Says:

    I had a higher succes rate with Mendeley. I believe it does look for a DOI in the PDF first of all.

  6. PaulNo Gravatar Says:


    I’m working on a startup called Teamness – which you may try for this.

    I’m not really sure it will help you will all the needs, especially with annotation, but we have a module called Whiteboards which you may use in collaboration with a colleague to edit/diff.

    We’re at the beginning with Teamness and we’re gathering feedback and suggestions, so please give it a try and let us know your opinion related to your needs. We may add the features you request in the future.

    Thanks and good luck,

  7. JohannNo Gravatar Says:

    For reference management and sharing reading notes, I would recommend citeUlike:
    It offers reference management and sharing your reads with others, and you and your colleagues can create a group for internal exchange.

    Although I must say I don’t use it very much, so I can’t say much about its practicability.

  8. KenNo Gravatar Says:

    Don’t forget Papers for Mac, great for organizing, searching PDFs. Uses iTunes-like organization and also has Pubmed (linked through your school library) search function.

  9. GodzhesasNo Gravatar Says:

    I’d recommend to take a look at, it has all the tools needed for easy online collaboration and management – blogs, wikis, todos, tasks, you can open some part of your project to the public and it can be customized etc. As well i’d take a look at and

  10. TJNo Gravatar Says:

    Another great tool that shouldn’t be overlooked is Google’s Docs applications. These tools allow online collaboration and you can allow access by only certain users.

  11. MatthiasNo Gravatar Says:

    For online reference management, CiteULike, Mendeley & Wikindix have already been mentioned. Other options include Connotea, BibSonomy (centrally-hosted websites) or Aigaion, refbase & refDB (to be installed on your own web server).

    See Wikipedia: Comparison of reference management software

  12. David BrimNo Gravatar Says:

    GroupTable is great free tool to manage any group work you have in school, whether it’s a group project, study group, or student organization.

    Each group has their own private chat, discussion board, task management system and binder to store & organize files.

  13. Shirley WuNo Gravatar Says:

    For online paper management and group file sharing you could take a look at

    Laboratree ( is a site for online collaboration management.

    Epernicus is a science networking site but it also offers some group management tools like shared files and an online whiteboard.

  14. Gecko Says:

    What about a quasi intranet like google apps?

  15. Gecko Says:

    …or Zoho.

  16. Ehud zamirNo Gravatar Says:

    A social knowledge sharing web application which allows college & university students to share their papers, notes and other materials, ask each-other questions and more

  17. Om wikibaserad datainsamling | Mothugg Says:

    [...] textbaserad empiri. Men befintliga Caqdas-program imponerade inte och de förslag jag fick via Academic Productivity var inte riktigt vad vi var ute efter heller. Nu har vi dock gjort vårt val: MediaWiki, [...]

  18. TomNo Gravatar Says:

    Another good one is Researchgate. I joined a while ago and I think it’s really useful. Check it out!

  19. TomNo Gravatar Says:

    Well, the link obviously is … Should have mentioned that! :)

  20. ChrisNo Gravatar Says:

    ….i`ve heard about a new semantic search engine at researchgate – anyone tried it out?

  21. Rob OakesNo Gravatar Says:

    My Research Group has had tremendously good luck with both Subversion (which is a version control system) and Office Live (a free online service from Microsoft). Subversion works great for specific projects, we create a series of stock folders: references, notes, discussions. References include PDF documents, notes include observations on those references (saved as individual text files which people then add their observations to the top of), and discussions include active questions which the PI or other individuals want to solicit feedback on. The upside is that it is a distributed system with offline files that anyone can get plug into via checking out a copy of the repository. When writing finally does coommence on a paper or proposal, a new folder: drafts is added. Subversion is OpenSource, thus it is rather easy to convert an old computer to a dedicated subversion server. If you are interested, there is overview of Subversion on my website.

    Office Live Workspace is something that we started using relatively recently. It is very similar to Microsoft’s Sharepoint, except accessed via the internet through a Windows Hotmail account. Each account gets 5 GB of online storage plus the ability to create an unlimited of projects (called workspaces). Each workspace can be used to host/share files (any type though it works best with MS Office documents), hold discussions, etc. While it will work with any browser, the software seems to play best with Windows (e.g. you can directly mount the workspace as a local drive). Office 2007 even has a plug-in which allows it to access the files without going through the browser.

  22. Host BDNo Gravatar Says:

    Shirley Wu is right. i say the same…

    For online paper management and group file sharing –

    For online collaboration management –

  23. Sarah Bodnar-BrimNo Gravatar Says:
    is wonderful online group collaboration tool and it’s free.

  24. SusanNo Gravatar Says:

    BioKM ( is a laboratory management tool that allows you to track research progress, lab supplies, specimen collection & experimental results which helps simplify collaboration efforts. Additionally, BioKM provides for an easy way to manage all papers and references.

  25. KellyNo Gravatar Says:

    Hi Shane,

    I vote for Have not used it lately, but it works very well. In my opinion.

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