I am looking for collaboration software in order to keep notes, discuss matters, etc. with colleagues in my university lab as well as with external collaborators. I want the users to be able to enter their input via browser using easy to learn formatting rules. If hard work, such as doing maintenance, or heavy learning curve is required, I want this to be left to admin only. The aggravating circumstances in my case are:

  • The university is not offering support to host such application, so I am searching for software that relies on static resources only, specifically be integrated with Dropbox for Business, which is provided to us by the university.
  • The other members of the lab never used such software and they do not understand its usefulness. So I don't want to ask for funding now, therefore the software should be free.
  • I have little knowledge of programming, particularly when servers are involved.

So far I tried DokuWiki (on-a-stick edition) but it did not work the way I expected. Suggestions that I found on the internet (e.g. http://ask.metafilter.com/215611/CMS-for-science) revolve around using Django, Jekyll, Wordpress, Drupal. I am willing to learn any of these and more, as long as I know in advance that I will end up with the system working as I described above.

This is why I am asking this question here. Can you recommend software and suggest how to deploy it?



  • 2
    Google Docs? If not, explain why in Question to clarify your requirements. Commented Sep 28, 2017 at 20:49
  • If you want just a simple and accessible chat/discussion and file exchange tool with minimal maintenance and installation, have a look at riot.
    – Alex
    Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 9:48
  • Microsoft OneNote or Evernote are suited for this.
    – Michael S.
    Commented Dec 19, 2017 at 16:07
  • Does your university have a online course management system? In addition to teaching with it, we've used ours for community groups (20 years now, Webct and Angel and now Canvas) with lots of success. Typically there will be built in collaboration tools, discussions, the ability to create groups and have them work on stuff, etc.
    – ivanivan
    Commented Feb 17, 2018 at 22:58
  • I think these could be made easily using a CMS and it can't be made using browsers (you're talking about discussing matters). Do you have internet access? I used Wordpress for several sites, please contact me if you need help.
    – onurcano
    Commented Feb 19, 2018 at 2:22

2 Answers 2


What I recommend

Google Docs and in general Google drive has everything you need I think. You can make several types of documents and with the addition of extensions and plugins you can add many more. I believe it is also possible to save documents to your dropbox, but Google drive is just as good I think. And it comes with 15 GB of free space, while dropbox only offers 2 GB I think?

The things it has that you seek:

  • Discussions can be held in the document at comment level or via the build in chat function.
  • Note keeping can be done by using a Google Doc (Minimal version of word basically) or by using Google keep (Note application, syncs across all devices)
  • You can share a folder, and decide who can see/ edit what per-user basis as well. All of this can be done via the browser or phone apps.
  • You can add, edit and delete documents from the browser or phone apps.
  • The formatting rules are very simple as it works as a basic word processor. There is no syntax needed like for example with markdown, it works like Word. e.g. Buttons in a menu bar but also key binds.
  • There is no steep learning curve and everything that is offered is very well documented by Google and you can find various tutorials online about anything that you would like to do with it.
  • There are various plugins you can add to it to help with various things. Think mind mapping and stuff like that. All of those can help with productivity and efficiency.

There are a couple of downsides though. Even though it is a word processor/ spreadsheet/ powerpoint tool, it is not as fully developed as actual Word, Excell, Powerpoint though. You should compare it to Office online rather than the desktop versions. Limited.

It is not as manageable as a fully developed CMS, on the other hand, you also have a lot of freedom to organize your structure as you want. At the end of the day it is a shared file tree that you can shape and form as you see fit.


Onenote / One drive/ Office online

This offers roughly the same functionality as Google drive and the applications in there. However, I have found them to be a bit laggy at times and am not super fond of them. I prefer Google drive, but for some things this might be better for you. I suggest you look into both, and into what each one can and can not do.


Very basic and rudimentary, but it will do note keeping and discussion.


Have you looked at Confluence by Atlassian? For your needs, you can try the hosted version (may need IT help to install). A one-time fee of $10 for up to 10 users. Once you prove the value, you can change the plan to the SaaS(online) version or upgrade the hosted version itself.

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