Collaborating with other members of your team to create and modify documents is a common business need. But what's the best way to handle this task? A new online document collaboration service called HyLighter lets you use colour coding to highlight annotations, which the service tracks separately from the original document.

Products designed to address the needs of people who collaborate on documents have been around for awhile. One familiar example is Microsoft Word's Track Changes capability; introduced several years ago, this feature lets users mark up a Word document with comments and suggested changes that other collaborators can accept or reject.

Many well-known web services provide highly flexible document collaboration options, including access to shared documents. Microsoft Office Live and WebEx WebOffice, for example, let you upload documents to a private online site for sharing, reviewing, and modifying. Basecamp provides an online Writeboard for document collaboration, as well as simple project management services.

HyLighter, currently in beta testing, specialises exclusively in document collaboration. It delivers benefits unavailable in more-generic online sharing services - most notably an intuitive colour-coding scheme that highlights areas of concern to the business team.

HyLighter tracks comments and suggested changes separately so they don't obscure the original document. In fact, you can't change the document itself within HyLighter, which might make it unsuitable for some users. But in situations where tracking collaborators'

HyLighter is a work in progress, so we wouldn't recommend relying on it exclusively when you're working with important documents; be prepared to use something else if you run into diificulties with it.

For example, the service says that it supports documents in Word, PDF, and HTML formats, but some PDFs that we uploaded to the service did not render completely faithfully. (HyLighter acknowledges that some multicolumn PDFs with embedded graphics may not display properly.)

On the other hand, Word documents displayed flawlessly. HyLighter says that it plans to support annotation on graphics, audio, and video files eventually.

How HyLighter works

HyLighter recognises two types of users: the originator of the document, and the invitee - the person whom the originator asks to participate in the collaboration. Short animated tutorials on HyLighter's site explain both user roles in greater detail.

The originator starts the process by signing up for the service and uploading a document. We ran into a minor problem the first time we tried to sign up: we didn't receive an acknowledgement via email. But on a second attempt the following day, we were successful.

Once logged in, you'll see a spare interface. Across the top are menu options for accessing documents you originate and documents you have been invited to collaborate on. A right-side pane contains links for changing your profile and for importing documents that you want to work on in HyLighter.

Importing documents is straightforward. You provide a document title, locate the file on your PC, assign it a copyright status (secure, pending, or not applicable) selected from a drop-down menu, enter a description if you wish, and list the email addresses of the people you want to invite as collaborators.

Each invitee receives an email message requesting input on the document. Before working on a document, the invitee must set up a HyLighter account.

NEXT PAGE: comments, not changes.