By Martin French
The internet is miraculous, no doubt about it, but collaborating with others on projects can get a bit messy if you're dependant on regular tools like email to keep things organised between yourself and other members of your team.
On the web there are a number of organisational tools to help you keep track of all kinds of information like deadlines, tasks and a myriad of other things.
One such tool is Producteev (geddit?). Producteev works on the principal of "workspaces". Inside each workspace you can create tasks that can be assigned to different members of that "workspace" to be completed. Other members can simply follow along and observe or collaborate with you.
You can interact with Producteev via a browser based interface, a phone application (Android and iOS) or a dedicated application on your computer (Windows and OSX).
For the purposes of this piece we shall focus on the browser application.
Start your Browser
Once you have signed up for your free account you can add one additional team member, the free account has some restrictions and each member needs a Producteev login. New members are added via the big green plus button (see image) and you can also set up some workspaces.
The user interface is relatively clean and finding your way around is easy.
Producteev's User Interface. Click to Embiggen
On the far left you have a folder list that's very similar to an email application. You can pull up a list of completed tasks, tasks that have been "starred" along with tasks that are due "today" or tasks that are late.
Any tasks that you have created are displayed in the centre column along with labels, priority stars, scheduled completion dates and the avatar of the person assigned to complete the task.
Clicking on a specific task will roll out the right hand panel (see image) where you can see a more detailed set of controls for the task at hand.
Creating a Task
Entering a new task is simple. Just type in the ever present task creation box at the top of the centre column, hit the add button and that's it. The task will then show up in all the applications you have on other devices. That natty feature is not automatic though because updates are not "pushed" to other devices.
If you have assigned a task to a team member then they will receive an email or a notification (for the phone applications and the OSX desktop application).
Should the notifications become annoying they can all be turned off via the preferences of the individual user accounts.
The real power in these applications however comes in the right hand panel.
Regular emails can quickly become lost in the sea of electronic messages many people receive on a daily basis. Because Producteev has a built in message system you can keep all correspondence relating to a particular task in one place alongside any documents you might want to attach.
Images can be previewed from within the web application and PDF and text based documents can be annotated with notes. Weirdly though you cannot do that from within either the desktop application on OSX or the iPhone application.
All documents can be downloaded to the users computer if they need to be accessed locally. This feature is available on the desktop and mobile applications.
Messaging aside, you can also set completion dates for the task, create reminders that are emailed to you, so you don't forget to actually do the job, and set "subtasks" within the main task.
Tasks can also be set to recur over any given period of time (daily, monthly, annually or whatever you need).
The administrator for the workspace can determine which members of the group can actually see the event which means if you're planning to oust the chairman of the board, you can do it with some privacy.
Many folks get concerned about using these types of online services for fear their data will be trapped inside the application. Producteev has a very straightforward export option which enables you to download all of your data as a simple CSV file that can be imported with ease into any database application or spreadsheet program.
File attachments are not downloaded though and we couldn't find a way to retrieve those en-masse.
Linking to specific tasks is a simple matter of clicking
As for the downsides? Well, the desktop application on OSX (Mac computers) is a complete pig. It's poorly designed and very clunky. Even on a brand new iMac it has performance issues that should not exist for such a simple application. The one saving grace for the app is the ability to set a global "new task" key so you just hit the hotkey on your keyboard and you can immediately start a new task, the app does need to be open though.
The fact that you can edit document "inline" using the web application but not the desktop version is completely ridiculous and hopefully that will be fixed with an update.
On mobile devices things are not much better. The iOS (iPhone) application is a bit of a muddle and could do with a serious overhaul.
As for the web based application? Well it works quickly and smoothly but could do with a little streamlining and tweaking on the design front but our quibbles with it are minor.
The option to set tasks to recur over time could certainly do with a few tweaks to provide users with clearer and more granular options. It would also be nice if notes posted to tasks could be threaded so team members could respond to specific notes.
Many applications on the desktop and mobile have Dropbox or Skydrive integration. There are some sharing options on the mobile version of the app but they are limited to copying individual files.
The free account is very restrictive in that you can only add one additional person to a workspace. A "pro" workspace will cost you $20(US) per month and those workspaces can have as many users as you like as well as unlimited storage space for file attachments (free accounts are limited to 500MB).
If you want to get all "privacy" orientated then additional workspaces can be added for more money and you can start restricted access to those workspaces so you can hatch your evil plans.
Minor quibbles aside Producteev works very well and is one of the simpler and more reliable group task management applications out there. The creators have promised major updates in the coming months covering the various platforms (mobile, web and desktop). We shall update this article when that happens.