Blog Post

An Elegant Option for Collaborative Content Review

colaab_logoColaab is a brand-spanking-new web app in the design and content review space. The app is not about project or task management. It’s for real-time or asynchronous collaborative work on files (documents, images, videos, and even websites). It’s ideal for remote collaboration if you work in design or creative work of just about any kind, or any field that involves imagery.

If you’re not in a field like this, it’s possible that many of you are involved in online training or teaching (I’ve been both an online teacher and student myself). If that’s your situation, you might want to explore how using Colaab could enrich your students’ online learning experience.

There are a few web apps in this space, but there’s room for improvement. This one really got my attention when founders Paul McGinness and Bob Thomson showed me their demo at LeWeb ’08 in December.

For one thing, compared to the others I’ve seen that serve a similar purpose, this app is far superior aesthetically. The UI is elegant and clean, with a rich interface thanks to Microsift Silverlight 2. Its features are so smooth that I wish I were part of a team of designers of anything at all so I could upload images and scribble on them with my team. But alas, I work primarily in the verbal space. Still, since I happen to be right in the middle of overseeing the design of the site, logo and some collateral material for my own project, I decided to upload some of those files and see what Colaab is about.

I started by creating an account, choosing the full-featured free plan that comes with 50 MB of storage space and one workspace with 10 users. Upon login, I was immediately prompted to create a workspace.

colaabtestspace2Within the workspace, you store and manage your resources (the files you are collaborating on). However after creating the workspace, I ran into a little bump. How to add resources to my workspace was not immediately evident. I clicked around and eventually discovered that I had to click on the workspace block that had appeared in the dashboard after I created it. Maybe there was another way, but I didn’t see it. (There were a couple of moments like that, but the learning curve is not daunting.)

The workspace includes an integrated IM feature, and discussions are displayed in the upper part of the right-hand panel. The lower part shows which users are participating. Without having to refresh the page, you receive notification of others’ comments and messages and when team members log in or out. As you might expect, when members make annotations on the files, all those who are logged in see them, also without having to refresh.


You can go to the Colaab site for more annotated screenshots, or watch their demo.

Colaab has offered a special deal for Web Worker Daily readers. The first 500 who sign up using the invite code WWD can have the “Starter” package for a year for free (normally $288). Mac and PC users welcome!

The application is already impressive and it has loads of promise. They’re still in beta, and eager to hear from their users. They’ve integrated the easiest feedback system I’ve ever seen (click the word Feedback in the upper left of the page and a nifty little form appears). So do try it out and let them know what you like and don’t like, and what you’d like to see!

If you want to compare Colaab to some of the other apps in the design review space, you can look at ConceptShare, proofHQ and Octopz. Another is ReviewBasics. I was mildly entertained by the fact that you can leave feedback on their demo as you would if you were working in the app.

So I did.


20 Responses to “An Elegant Option for Collaborative Content Review”

  1. Will C.

    This discussion on moral norms brings home the need for more collabrative contact on the web. It is so easy, being insullated behind text driven chat with all it’s slang and abbreviations, to asume we all think alike and share the same morals, except for “the other people”, of course. :)
    A collabrative environment forces us to accept the fact that there are many shades of grey in the real world, where rarely is anything black and white.

  2. It’s a little dated at this point, but I’ll give my impressions.

    I signed up yesterday to play around with it, downloaded Silverlight, went through the signup process. There’s been enough commentary on requiring Silverlight, but my only issue is that I can’t expect clients to download and install it, so that makes it a non-starter. Still, I was willing to try things out.

    Logged in, created a workspace and was ready to paste in some text as my first resource. Full stop – you can’t enter text as a resource. You have to upload something.

    So, I saved my stuff into a text PDF file and uploaded it. It sat there and sat there and sat there. Never gave a confirmation. I canceled the upload and started again. Same thing. Then I go back to my workspace and there are both of the resources, processing. So far as I know they’re still processing, because I gave up waiting and later they seemed to disappear.

    I think it’s admirable anytime anyone puts out a new and cool application and of course they don’t work great at first and of course there are always issues and OF COURSE the first thing web nerds do is pile on and take a dump on anything they can find (criticism being the national sport of the internet), but I have to say that this one really is tough to give a fair shot to.

    In fact, just from what I’ve seen, I would advise against even trying it in its current state. Maybe several revisions down the road.

  3. @bob

    You say “I’m sorry that Silverlight isn’t for you” but you conveniently avoid the fact that I CAN’T install Siverlight on my MacOS.

    You talk about this app being for design review, but you cannot be serious if you can’t deliver a solution that works with Macs.

  4. Pam,

    Yes I think, say a Calvin Klein style male image would also be problematic.

    I’m trying to get business done, and frankly I wouldn’t be comfortable sending an e-mail to my colleagues asking them to give this demo a try with content like that.

    Especially given the service. I wouldn’t be surprised to see an image like that, say, if I was sending people possible stock photo sites that we might want to use. But document collaboration? Come on.

    It just comes across as extremely unprofessional.

  5. Hi Brian. I hesitated to include that. I’m not militant or a prude. But there’s a time and a place! It’s all about context. I’m really curious to know if an equally suggestive picture of a guy would have bothered any guys.

  6. Pam — nice one on the final screenshot. Apparently, though, the Intertubes only get upset about such things if they involve Motrin. Still unbelievable a company would go live with that as part of their introductory demo.

  7. @Vincent – I’m sorry that Silverlight isn’t for you. For us it enabled building out a richer user experience while staying within the browser.

    @Alex – As you suggest tools like colaab can be used for both:

    Collaborative content review / production, for example liaising with a design agency about a logo they are producing for you.

    Collaborative content consumption, for example guiding people through a fire safety video or slideshow.

    With colaab we’ve worked very hard on making updates made by others appear as close to real-time as possible for everyone else, be it the addition of comments to a Powerpoint or some annotations at 1 min 26 seconds of a video!



    Bob Thomson
    storm ideas
    twitter: movingforwards

  8. These types of collaboration tools are incredibly useful. We have been using them for training and consulting. We’ve benn using Cozimo (not Collab) for the past year and we love it. The best things is that people can either review content on their own or together in live real-time meetings. I believe that Octopz also supports synchronous collaboration but I don’t believe the others you mention do.

    • Joe Fritz

      Thanks for the recommendation of Cozimo. (I know this comment is months old). After trying out 5 or 6 of these types of applications, Cozimo wins out by being the cleanest, not requiring Silverlight (the devs at work ALL refused to install it, nulling Colaab as an option… otherwise that might have been the winner), allowing for multi-user sharing, live updates, multi-page documents, and a very clean UI. The one thing I wish it did have was a list view of all of the comments made on a single file. But I can get around that by printing out a file for now. I’ll put in a feature request when we upgrade to a paid account.

      Thanks again!

    • I have used Cozimo to collaborate on PPT presentations with members from my consulting who are at client sites. It provides a way for me to monitor what they are doing and offer some suggestions. It is much more convenient than exchanging emails, since interactions occur in real time.