Try Doodle to Schedule a Group Meeting or Sign Up Volunteers!

Have you ever set up a group meeting, whether in person or via videoconferencing, but found it cumbersome to find a time that works for everyone? Or maybe you want to solicit volunteers for an event? There’s a neat online tool that makes such logistics easy: Doodle. You can use it for free (with ads)—even without setting up an account. Or, if you want to eliminate the ads and get support for calendar syncing, deadlines, reminders, multiple users, and more, there are paid Premium plans. You can use Doodle in a Web browser or download the Doodle iOS app.

Determine Your Poll Type

Setting up a Doodle poll is easy. The first step is to figure out what sort of poll you want—a time poll or a text poll. A time poll is best if you want to let your respondents vote for specific dates and times. Use it when you’re trying to determine if the club Zoom call should be Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday, and at 11 AM, 3 PM, or 5 PM on one of those days.

In contrast, a text poll lets your respondents vote on anything. For example, you could use a text poll to see where a large group would like to have a party (your house, the park, a favorite restaurant), or what sort of food people want for lunch (Thai, Mexican, Ethiopian). You could even use a Doodle text poll to see who among a large group of volunteers can help at a series of 5K races.

Set the Poll Options

After you click the big red Create a Doodle button at the top of the Doodle Web page, you work your way through a four-step wizard. The first step merely asks for the title of your poll and an optional location and note.

The second step is where all the magic happens. You have three choices here: Month, Week, and Text. In Month view, you get a calendar from which you can pick days and optionally add times. Month view is best for picking the best day for a picnic, for instance, and the time would be the same regardless of which day is chosen.

Week view is the most common way that people use Doodle, because it’s how you choose times for a meeting. Just drag a box out for each proposed time period. If you make the box too big or small, you can resize it from the bottom, and you can also drag boxes to different times. To delete a box, hover over it and click the X that appears in its upper-right corner. Note that if you’re creating a poll for an event you need to attend, it’s not worth including dates or times when you can’t make it.

With a text poll, you can enter anything you want for the poll options. In the screenshot, we’re using Doodle as a volunteer signup sheet.

Once you click Continue, you move on to the Poll Settings screen, which provides four useful settings:

  • Yes, no, if need be: Select this option if you want to allow your participants to have a “maybe” or “if it’s absolutely necessary” or “you can twist my arm” option. We’re fond of this option because many scheduling questions don’t have a simple Yes/No answer.
  • Limit the number of votes per option: An example of where this option is helpful is if you want only so many people to bring a main course, salad, or dessert to a picnic—otherwise, the menu can get out of balance.
  • Limit participants to a single vote: Employ this option to prevent people from signing up for multiple options.
  • Hidden poll: By default, the results of Doodle polls are visible to everyone who has the link, which is usually good. Select this option to keep people from seeing each other’s votes.

The final step just asks for your name and email address, after which Doodle displays your poll so you can share it and vote in it. Before you do anything else, click the Copy button in the Invite Participants box and paste it somewhere for later reference. If you have a Doodle account—free or paid—you can also have it send email, but we recommend sending the email yourself instead so you have complete control over the message.

Now it’s your turn to vote. For each option, click once for Yes (a green checkmark) or twice for Maybe (a yellow checkmark). Leave a box blank to vote No. If you need to edit your votes afterward, you can do so (click the blue pencil icon that appears next to your name) if you were logged in to an account when you voted or if the Web page remembers you.

Solicit Votes

Remember that link you copied a minute ago? Now’s the time to send it out. The beauty of Doodle is that you can send it to as few or as many people as you want, in any way you want. You could message it to a group of friends, send it to the office email exploder, post it in your company’s Slack, publish it to a public mailing list, or even post it on Facebook or Twitter. Other people can share it as well, if you’re trying to cast a wide net.

Doodle polls don’t have any security beyond the obscurity of their URLs, so if your poll is at all confidential,  make sure to tell people not to share it further.

Pick a Winner

If you’ve set up an account, you’ll receive a notification whenever anyone votes in your poll. You can also load the link you shared at any time to see how the votes are progressing. In our Month poll, three people have voted, and you can see that June 13th and June 27th are the most popular work, so you get to choose.

In the Week poll, it’s obvious that there’s only one option that works well for everyone, June 12th at 9 AM. However, you can see that June 12th at 2 PM is possible, in case something changes and you need a backup time.

Finally, in our text poll looking for volunteers, there’s no “winning.” The poll results merely tell you who can work at which races, and if you only need three volunteers for each race, you’re all set. However, you can also see that you may need to line up another person in case Rashid Cookie ends up bailing on you.

Although the results are usually perfectly obvious, you can click a red Choose Final Option button if you’re the poll creator and are logged in or remembered. That identifies the best choice, although you can override it with a click, and closes the poll so no one else can vote. If you’re logged in and have connected your calendar, you can add it directly from the results page. We usually announce the final choice however we shared the poll link, and anyone who wants to see the voting results can load the poll again.

As you can imagine, Doodle’s Premium plans add quite a few more features, and they may be worthwhile if you end up using it regularly. However, for quick scheduling of group meetings or lightweight polling, you can stick with either the free account or use it without even logging in. Give it a try next time you need to poll a group!

(Featured image by Doodle)

Choosing a Cloud-Based File Sharing Service

The fastest and easiest way to share files among your Macs and iOS devices is via cloud-based file sharing services, and they’re also fabulous for collaborating on files with colleagues. Here’s how to choose among them.

Macs haven’t had removable storage for years, so when you want to move files between computers, you can use USB flash drives, email, Messages, AirDrop, or local file sharing. Those techniques are fine, but for a more efficient, effective, and elegant solution, try a cloud-based file sharing service.

These services use special software to integrate into the Mac’s Finder, designating a particular folder to hold shared files. Whenever you add a file to that folder—or any subfolder inside it—the software automatically uploads it to the cloud and downloads it to linked devices. File changes and deletions sync quickly, so the shared folder remains in sync everywhere at all times. iOS’s Files app also provides a single interface to the main services on your iPhone or iPad.

File sharing services provide two key capabilities:

  • They allow you to share files between your own devices, including Macs, iPhones, iPads, and Windows-based PCs. This makes it easy to access your data wherever you are and on whatever device you’re using.
  • They let you share files or folders with others, sometimes with permissions- or date-based restrictions. Such capabilities are incredibly effective for workgroup collaboration.

Numerous cloud-based file sharing services exist, but the most popular are Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud Drive, and Microsoft’s OneDrive, all of which offer free plans with limited amounts of storage.

Box

Box is aimed primarily at large enterprises, with plans priced at $5, $15, or $25 per user per month. The main differences between those plans revolve around things like the number of users, administrative controls and security reporting, and custom branding. Box integrates with hundreds of apps and offers a platform on which companies can build their own collaboration and workflow solutions.

Box also offers a free Individual plan with 10 GB of storage. A Personal Pro plan costs $10 per month, but that provides only 100 GB of storage, much less than the competition.

Dropbox

The 800-pound gorilla of the file-sharing space is Dropbox, which popularized the concept starting in 2007. A free Basic account offers 2 GB of storage space, but for $9.99 per month, the Plus plan gives you 1 TB and the $19.99 Professional plan doubles that to 2 TB and provides additional controls. If you need to share a folder with someone, Dropbox is generally the best option because so many people already have accounts.

For teams, Dropbox Business provides Standard ($12.50 per user per month) and Advanced ($20 per user per month) plans that increase the space even further and add administrative controls, increased security options, and more. iStore is proud to be a Dropbox Registered Partner and can assist you with setting up your Dropbox Business account. Just drop us a line here.

Google Drive

Conceptually, Google Drive is where Google Docs, Google Sheets, and Google Slides store their files. However, it also lets you store any type of file, and Google provides 15 GB of free storage with every Google account. For those who need more storage, Google offers a variety of storage tiers, including 100 GB ($1.99 per month), 200 GB ($2.99), and 2 TB ($9.99).

Google Drive Enterprise extends the service for teams with additional collaboration, workflow, and security tools. It’s priced at $8 per active user per month plus $0.04 per gigabyte of data stored. If you want the full G Suite, which includes Gmail, Google Docs, video conferencing, team messaging, and shared calendars, $6 per user per month buys 30 GB of storage and $12 per user per month buys unlimited storage.

Google generally assumes you’ll do everything in a Web browser or a smartphone app, but with the company’s Backup and Sync software for the Mac, it provides the same level of Finder integration as other services.

iCloud Drive

Although Apple’s iCloud Drive is deeply integrated into macOS and iOS and numerous apps, it’s the weakest of the file sharing services. That’s because Apple focuses on individuals, not groups or teams. iCloud Drive works fine for sharing files among your own devices, and it allows you to share individual files (but not folders) with anyone who has an Apple ID.

Apple gives all Mac and iOS users 5 GB of free space in iCloud Drive, although things like iCloud backups of your iOS devices can use that up quickly. For $0.99 per month, you can get 50 GB, $2.99 per month gets you 200 GB, and 2 TB costs $9.99 per month. There are no business plans, but you can share the purchased space with other members of a Family Sharing group.

OneDrive

Most of Microsoft’s Office 365 subscriptions include OneDrive storage—a $99.99 per year Office 365 Home plan provides 1 TB for each of up to six users, whereas a $69.99 Office 365 Personal subscription is for just one user. On the business side, you can pay $5, $8.25, or $12.50 per user per month for different Office 365 plans. The low-end plan doesn’t include the desktop versions of the Office apps, and the high-end plan provides Exchange, SharePoint, and Teams in addition to all the Office apps and 1 TB of OneDrive storage for each user.

How to Choose a Service

Which of these services is best for your needs? That’s a potentially complicated question, and we’re happy to talk with you directly to make a recommendation. That said, here are the basics.

If you mostly need to share files among your own devices and want to share the occasional file with another Apple user, iCloud Drive may be sufficient, especially if you are already paying for more storage for iCloud Photos. Those who are heavily invested in Google’s G Suite or Microsoft Office 365 should focus on Google Drive or OneDrive. If you aren’t already in bed with Google or Microsoft, Dropbox is the best bet for most individuals and groups, although larger organizations should also evaluate Box.

Collaborate with Colleagues in Google Docs

Collaboration is what all the cool kids—well, all the competitive businesses—are doing these days because it’s efficient and effective. See “Stop Mailing Files Around and Use Collaborative Apps” and for users of Apple’s iWork, “Collaborate with Colleagues in Pages, Numbers, and Keynote.” Today we’re going to look at collaborating using Google’s Web-based productivity suite, Google Docs, which businesses can use for free or as part of a G Suite subscription.

The Google Docs suite competes with Apple’s iWork and Microsoft’s Office 365, providing Google Docs for word processing, Google Sheets for spreadsheet work, and Google Slides for presentations. You can manage all your files in Google Drive. Although all are Web-based and work best on a Mac or other desktop computer, Google also makes iOS apps that let you work—a bit less flexibly—on an iPad or iPhone.

You’ll need a free Google account to create new documents, and for full-fledged collaboration, your colleagues will need Google accounts too. You can share documents with people who lack Google accounts or don’t want to sign in, but their comments and changes will be anonymous.

Invite Collaborators

Once your document is ready to share, you can invite collaborators by clicking the large Share button in the upper-right corner of the window.

Flexible permissions let you share with specific people, and for each person, set whether they can edit, comment on, or just view the document (below left). You can also add a note that will be sent with the invitation.

If that’s too specific—you’re sharing with a large group, for instance—click Get Shareable Link to turn on link sharing (above right). Then you can set the permissions for the link by clicking the down-pointing arrow next to “Anyone with the link can…” This works well for things like self-service signup spreadsheets. Copy the link and send it however you like, such as via Messages or to a mailing list.

If you add people over time, you can see who has access by clicking Advanced. That view also provides more owner controls, including the option to prevent commenters and viewers from downloading, printing, or copying.

When you’re done, click Send or Done.

Accept an Invitation

People you invite receive an email invitation and click the Open In button to start working on the document. With link sharing, all the recipient has to do is click the link.

The main gotcha is that recipients must sign in to their Google accounts if sharing has been restricted to specific people. A less common problem can occur when you send an invitation to someone at an email address that doesn’t match their Google account, which prevents them from collaborating. They can then request that you share the document with their Google account; click the Open Sharing Settings button in the request email to grant access.

Add and Change Data

Apart from the permissions that restrict collaborators to commenting or viewing, there are no limitations on what people can do in a shared document—all editors are equal, and Google Docs works the same whether a document has one person using it or ten.

You can see who is in the document by the little avatar icons in the menu bar. It also tells you when the last edit was, and Google Docs always shows where other users are working with a color-coded cursor and marks when other users have selected content in the document with a colored highlight box.

Add Comments

The beauty of comments in a collaborative scenario is that discussions can occur in context. To add a comment, select some text and choose Insert > Comment. Comments show up in the right-hand sidebar in Google Docs and Google Slides; in Google Sheets, the cell containing a comment gets a little yellow triangle in the corner, and the comment appears when you click the cell.

Google pioneered comment conversations, which allow collaborators to reply to each others’ comments and keep the discussion connected to the initial comment. You can edit or delete your own comments by clicking the stacked three-dot More menu. Do that for someone else’s comment and you can get a link to the comment—it’s useful if you need to point someone to the discussion.

To see all the comments in a stream, click the Comment History button in the menu bar, which looks like a speech balloon. It’s especially useful when reviewing comments in Sheets, where you would otherwise have to click all the little yellow triangles in cells.

View Versions and Suggested Changes

The main way to see who has done what in a document is by choosing File > Version History > See Version History. That displays a right-hand sidebar showing dates when the file was changed; click an entry to see the changes in the main pane. Arrows above the main pane let you highlight each change in turn. If you want to revert to the selected version (which will delete all subsequent changes!), click Restore This Version.

For Google Sheets and Google Slides, version history is all that’s available, which can be frustrating because when you’re reviewing edits in version history, you can’t make changes. As a workaround, open a second browser window so you can review changes in one window and make edits in another.

Google Docs (the word processor, in this case) offers another choice: Suggesting mode, which works more like Track Changes in Page or Word. Switch into it by clicking the pencil icon in the upper-right corner and choosing Suggesting. From then on, all edits are non-destructive and are color-coded by the person who makes them. They’re coupled with boxes in the right-hand sidebar that detail the change, provide ✔ and X icons for accepting or rejecting the change, and offer a Reply field that enables discussions of each change—a brilliant feature.

If you want to be guided through all the suggested edits, or accept or reject changes all at once, rather than handling them one at a time in the right-hand sidebar, choose Tools > Review Suggested Changes.

When you’re done collaborating on a document, you can click the Share button and remove people or turn off link sharing. That immediately prevents others from making more changes.

When choosing a collaboration platform, you’ll generally pick what your colleagues use, whether that’s Google Docs, iWork, or Office 365. However, if you’re sharing with people whose platform and app details you don’t know, Google Docs is the best choice—Google accounts are common and the Google Docs apps work equally well on all computers. Plus, since Google Docs was built from the ground up for collaboration, it’s a mature solution that’s quick, easy, and effective.

Collaborate with Colleagues in Pages, Numbers, and Keynote

We talked last month generally about real-time collaboration and why it’s so efficient and effective—see “Stop Mailing Files Around and Use Collaborative Apps.” Now we’re going to explain how to start collaborating in Apple’s iWork suite of apps: Pages, Numbers, and Keynote. Happily, the basics are similar in all three apps.

We’ll focus on the Mac versions here (make sure you have the latest updates!), but note that the iOS versions can participate as full-fledged collaboration citizens (Apple has more details). It’s even possible to use the iCloud versions of these apps for collaboration, but with some limitations (notably that Pages documents with tracked changes can only be viewed, not edited, in iCloud).

Invite Collaborators

Once you have a document you want to share, the first step is to invite your collaborators. Choose Share > Collaborate with Others, or click the Collaborate button in the toolbar.

The document must be stored in iCloud Drive (or the Box file sharing service), and the iWork apps will automatically move the file there if need be. To find the file later, choose Go > iCloud Drive in the Finder and look in the folder associated with the app you’re using.

Next, the app displays the Add People dialog, where you can choose with whom you’re going to share the document, how to send the invitation, and what permissions to set.

The Share Options are important. First, you can limit access to “Only people you invite” or “Anyone with the link.” With the former, the invitees must have iCloud accounts and be signed in. With the latter, you can share with anyone, even if they don’t use Apple devices.

Second, with the Permission menu, you can let collaborators make changes, or if you want them just to see the document, you can restrict them to View Only.

When you’re done, click Share to send the iCloud link via the specified channel (or copy it to the clipboard for sending in whatever way you prefer).

Accept an Invitation

When the recipient clicks the link or clicks Accept in a sharing notification, they get a dialog asking to open the document and telling them where it’s stored, in case they don’t want to work on it right away.

When they open the document, it will look and feel exactly like a normal document in Pages, Numbers, or Keynote.

For someone who isn’t an Apple user, clicking the iCloud URL will open the document in the Web version of the appropriate app on iCloud.com. They’ll need to enter a name to identify them in the document, after which they can work in the Web app.

Add and Change Data

For the most part, you can do anything in a shared document that you can do with a normal document. There a few general limitations, such as managing styles and working with media files over 50 MB, plus some app-specific restrictions, such as working with tables of contents in Pages, transposing tables in Numbers, and changing themes in Keynote. Apple has a full list.

While you’re working, you can see who else is in the document at the same time by clicking the Collaborate button and looking for a colored dot next to a person’s name.

You’ll see color-coded cursors, text, and object selections as other people work, but if that’s distracting, choose View > Hide Collaboration Activity.

It can be hard to be work in a document while seeing someone else making changes, so don’t be shy about hiding collaboration activity. Or, if you are actively working with someone on a particular part of the document, consider doing so while you can talk in person or on the phone.

Add Comments

Commenting is the big win for collaboration with remote colleagues—it can save a vast amount of time to discuss a particular aspect of a document in context. To add a comment, select some text or an object, and then choose Insert > Comment or click the Comment button on the toolbar. (The controls look a bit different in iOS; Apple explains the differences.)

Comments appear as color-coded selections, boxes, or in the case of Numbers, corner triangles in cells. If they’re in the way, you can hide them by choosing View > Comments > Hide Comments. Other commands in View > Comments let you easily navigate to next and previous comments so you don’t have to find them visually.

Other collaborators can click Reply to continue the conversation right within that comment. You can edit one of your comments at any time by clicking to the right of the timestamp and choosing Edit Comment (or Edit Reply). Once the discussion has been resolved, either the person who started the comment thread or the document owner can delete the comment thread by clicking Delete.

Track Changes

Tracking who made what changes to a document is available only in Pages, and it’s hugely helpful when you need editing. Only the document owner can enable the feature by choosing Edit > Track Changes, but once that’s done, the change tracking toolbar appears above the document with controls for navigating between comments and changes, buttons for accepting or rejecting changes, and a button for pausing change tracking. A pop-up menu at the right side lets you configure whether you want to see all changes, changes other than deletions (which is generally the best setting), or what the document will look like in the end. A left-hand sidebar lists all comments and changes—show it by choosing View > Show Comments & Changes Pane.

Anyone with edit access can accept or reject any particular change by clicking Accept or Reject in the Comments & Changes pane; you can also use the buttons in the change tracking toolbar to navigate from change to change, accepting and rejecting as you go. If there’s no need to deal with each change individually, use the pop-up menu’s commands to accept or reject all changes.

Needless to say, you can work on shared documents only when you’re online when you’re using the Mac or iOS version of an iWork app (if you try to edit while offline, the app will only let you edit a copy that is no longer shared). With any iCloud.com documents that you already have open, however, you can work offline, but your changes won’t appear to others until you reconnect.

When you’re done collaborating on a document, click the Collaborate button in the toolbar and then Stop Sharing (below left). Doing so immediately prevents others from making more changes and deletes the document from iCloud Drive on their devices (below right).

Simultaneous collaboration is wonderful when you’re working intensely with other people to develop a presentation, brainstorm budget estimates, or wordsmith a mission statement. In such situations, you’ll want to be able to talk at the same time. But for other sorts of projects, it’s also useful to allow people to collaborate when it’s convenient for them—the important thing is that everyone is working in the same document and can see each other’s changes and comments. If you rely on Apple’s iWork app for word processing, spreadsheets, or presentations, give their collaboration features a try!

Stop Mailing Files Around and Use Collaborative Apps

Have you ever emailed a document to several colleagues for feedback, and then had to go through each of their changes in turn, merging everything into your master document? What if one of them needs to see the changes that another suggested? Plus, what if you need to make substantial changes after you’ve sent the document out for review, but before you’ve heard back from everyone?

If you’re still doing this document dance, it’s time to quickstep into the modern world and try the real-time collaboration features that are built into many apps, including Apple’s iWork apps (Pages, Numbers, and Keynote), the Microsoft Office 365 suite (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint), and Google’s online app suite (Google Docs, Google Sheets, and Google Slides).

Let’s look at why real-time collaboration is the most efficient and productive solution for working with colleagues.

One Document to Rule Them All

In the old model of collaboration, where you gave each person their own copy of the document, you had to bring their changes and comments back into your master copy. That’s clumsy, time-consuming, and error-prone, even when the apps in question have features for merging.

With modern collaboration systems, there is only one document that everyone works on, so there’s no need to keep track of different copies or merge changes. Plus, you never have to worry about someone’s copy getting corrupted or lost.

Work Simultaneously or Sequentially

In many collaborative scenarios, the people with whom you’re working need to be aware of what the others are doing. Theoretically, you could send your document to one person, get it back, send to the next, get it back, and so on. That way each person sees the changes and comments from those who have gone before, but it takes a lot of time and coordination effort.

But in a real-time collaboration system with a single document, everyone can work at the same time. That’s not to say they will, but even after Alice has taken her primary pass and Bob and Carmen have added more changes and comments, Alice can dip in again to see and react to what they did, assuming they had track changes enabled. It’s a much faster way to resolve differing opinions on a document’s wording or a slide’s appearance.

Some collaboration systems also feature a revision history, which lets you go back in time and see what each person has done at different points. That can be helpful if the app wasn’t set to track changes when a collaborator made some edits.

Have In-Document Conversations

“Collaboration” generally takes two forms: changing information in the document and commenting on it. For instance, if you’re collaborating on a budget spreadsheet with colleagues, each person can add or update the information about annual expenses for their department, saving you the trouble of collecting and entering that information. And if someone makes a mistake, it’s easy for another person to correct it. Collaboration systems generally identify the person who makes each change, so Alice knows that Bob added his department’s expenses and Carmen updated all the dates to the current year.

Equally useful are comments, which you can generally attach to one or more words on a document or presentation, or a cell in a spreadsheet. Also, in many systems, a change or comment can be the start of a conversation much like in Messages, where each person gets to weigh in and the conversation stays tied to that change or comment.

Invite Multiple Types of Collaborators

A key feature of most collaboration systems is that people can take on different roles. There are generally three levels of access—view, comment, and edit—and you can invite any given person to a particular role. So you might ask Alice to proofread your document and give her edit access, while you ask Bob and Carmen merely to add comments. And if you need to show the document to Deepak (but you don’t want to let him even comment), you could invite him with just view permissions.

There’s one implicit role here—you as the document’s owner. Someone with edit access can generally make the same changes you can, but it’s always best to have one person who’s in charge of accepting or rejecting changes and resolving differences. That person might even change occasionally, but you should always make clear what you expect others to do at what point. For instance, if you’re an author collaborating with an editor, you should deal with your editor’s changes, and your editor should accept your subsequent edits.

You’re probably already using apps that can be used for real-time collaboration, so if you’d like help figuring out the best way to get started, get in touch.