Google has been running a campaign called Gone Google where businesses, schools and organisations switch over to Google Apps, a free, web-based platform for communication and collaboration. The Arché Research Centre in St Andrews has started its move over to Google this semester, introducing Google Groups for different projects, Google Docs for minuting and research collaboration, and a shared Google Calendar for the centre's activity.
How does it make a difference?
(1) Google Calendar: Arché now has a new schedule online. The schedule is based on Google Calendar, and is synchronised with our own calendars. If I update the Arché calendar stream in my private Google Calendar (on my phone or my computer), the public Arché calendar is automatically updated and everyone subscribing to the Calendar stream has their private calendars updated as well. This makes for a more efficient and accurate schedule. You can subscribe to both Google Calendar and iCal at the bottom of our Calendar page. If you don't need to see the Arché Calendar stream on a daily basis, you can deactivate it while seeing your other events. Note also that there are two different streams, one for weekly seminars, and one for events (e.g., workshops).
(2) Google Docs: Instead of the endless email exchanges with series of updated attachements, collaborative work - either research or admin - can be done in a shared document in Google Docs. It's perfect for writing seminar minutes of Arché's research projects, but also for writing papers together (at the same time) and commenting on papers. It's even got a LaTeX editor that can do a bit of basic logic, fractions, etc. (A more robust LaTeX options might be on its way as well.) Andrew Cullison writes on length about Google Docs for teaching purposes here. You can also share folders, using them for example as repositories for papers that a reading group is working through.
(3) Google Groups: Maybe this isn't universal, but we've had a hard time maintaining email lists on the university servers. Google Groups gives you an easy way to start and manage email lists without going through university bureaucracy. A typical problem with email lists is that one wants to include people without keeping names and addresses that are no longer valid or relevant. With Google Groups the admin is easy and can be shared between the researchers leading the project, seminar or reading group. You can also share documents through the Groups.
Hopefully, this is just the start. Soon we'll use Google Wave for collaborative research, integrating the above features in one interface.