The ease of sharing documents over email was a major advance over sending faxes or posting letters, but that convenience gave rise to other issues. When two or more people were working on a document - editing a sales proposal or a design brief, for example - it became very difficult to stay on top of the latest version.
Workarounds such as renaming the document (version 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, etc) or using Microsoft Word’s ‘track changes’ function helped to manage the process but neither approach can completely avoid the danger of an older copy being mistaken for the latest version. The consequences can be amusing or costly if the wrong information is released to the public. Thankfully there are better ways of working together, a term captured by IT marketers as ‘collaboration’.
The best way to have several editors working on one document is to host a single version online. Document sharing services allow you to have a number of people registered to edit a document simultaneously - you can actually see the text appear in the document in real-time. The greatest advantage is that only one version of the document exists, no matter how many edits are made.
Version control is not the only benefit. Using a single document reduces the number of files floating around your business, which cuts down storage and backup requirements, network speed and general administration.
Hosting documents online also saves you paying for the hard drives and servers to store them yourself. And because documents hosted online can be accessed using an internet browser like Microsoft Explorer or Firefox, you can view, edit or print your documents at any computer or mobile device connected to the internet.
You might prefer to sync a folder of online documents to a hard drive in your office for peace of mind. However, these services always keep backups of all documents in several data centres many kilometres apart - sometimes on different continents.
GOOGLE VS MICROSOFT
Google was one of the pioneers of the collaboration approach through its Google Docs platform. Google Docs also has a track changes function but with a twist; called ‘revision history’. Edits are colour coded and displayed in a vertical timeline with the option to restore a version at any point. Google has made it very easy to add editors to a word processing document, spreadsheet or presentation. A ‘share’ button lets you invite people to view or co-edit the document.
Microsoft has released an internet-based add-on to its ubiquitous Microsoft Office productivity suite that accomplishes a similar objective. The software giant is launching a fully online version of Microsoft Office this month called Microsoft 365 that will better address online collaboration.