Android Intelligence Advice

This clever Chrome collaboration tool deserves your attention

If you ever share your screen with anyone, this smart Chrome add-on will change the way you work — for the better.

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I'm always on the hunt for interesting new tools that can make our lives a little easier, and my goodness, have I ever got something that fits that bill today.

It's a new add-on for Chrome that gives you a super-simple way to share anything on your screen with anyone and show 'em exactly what's on your mind. And best of all? You don't have to hop on a video call to do it. It's asynchronous communication, as the cool kids like to say these days. Translated out of geek-speak, that means "a much less annoying way to get stuff done."

The program is called Bubbles, and it's one of those things that feels like such a smart and sensible addition to Chrome, you'll wonder why it wasn't already built in as a native browser feature. Don'tcha just love coming across creations like that?

So here's how it works: First, you need to install the Bubbles extension in Chrome on your computer. That part's easy. And it works the same no matter what operating system you're using, so long as you've got some version of the Chrome desktop browser in place.

Once Bubbles is installed, you just click its icon in the Chrome address bar area (or click that funky-lookin' puzzle icon in that same spot to find it). The first time you do that, you'll have to follow a prompt to give Bubbles access to your system microphone so it can save the sound of your silky-sweet vocal vibrations. And then you click the big red Create New Recording button.

Chrome Collaboration: Bubbles (1) JR

You can also skip all those steps and simply hit Ctrl-Shift-1 (or ⌘-Shift-1, for the highfalutin Apple-ownin' folk among us), if you really want to be a show-off. Either way you go, at that point, you'll be prompted to pick whether you want Bubbles to record your current Chrome window only or to capture everything from your entire desktop. Make your choice, and within another second, you'll see a fancy-schmancy control panel and an enormous countdown show up on your screen.

Chrome Collaboration: Bubbles (2) JR

And then you're off to the races! Bubbles will record whatever you're looking at. You can click, scroll, and mouse around to your heart's content, and you can narrate along with everything to explain what you're seeing and what your colleagues, cousins, and/or friendly neighborhood critters need to know. (Hey, I don't know what sorts of organisms you share stuff with.) You could walk 'em through a website, talk about why it matters, or explain what needs to be done to improve it. Heck, you could even sing a jaw-dropping rendition of Bette Midler's "Wind Beneath My Wings," if you're ever so inspired (and if you don't mind having everyone you know rightfully shun you for all of eternity).

What makes Bubbles especially useful, though, is the way it brings text-based messaging seamlessly into that same experience. While you're recording, you can click the little comment icon in the Bubbles panel at the left side of the screen to create a bubble (get it?!) and then drag it anywhere you want on the screen. That bubble will be associated with whatever comment you type and will then serve as an easy point of reference for anyone watching the video.

Chrome Collaboration: Bubbles (3) JR

See those bubbles in the video timeline, below? Anyone you share the video with can click those to jump directly to the moments you added the associated points of emphasis. And when they do, they'll see your comments show up on the screen at the exact same time.

Chrome Collaboration: Bubbles (4) JR

Pretty nifty, right?

The other thing I really like about Bubbles is how painless it makes it to share your creation. Once you've finished your video, all you've gotta do is click a single button in the tool's upper-right corner to copy a link anyone can then pull up in their own browser for easy access — no downloads or sign-ups required. And once someone's viewing the link, they can add their own bubble-based comments and replies right into your video, too, once again without the need for any time-consuming initiation process. It takes virtually no effort to stop, collaborate, and (oh, yes) listen.

You or anyone else viewing the video can even highlight specific sections of your demo within the timeline and then leave comments related specifically to those areas of the discussion, if a single frame placement isn't enough for some particular purpose.

Chrome Collaboration: Bubbles (5) JR

Any comments added onto the video will pop up on your end in real-time, too, so long as you've still got the Bubbles window open in Chrome on your computer. And if you enter in an email address (which isn't required), you'll get email notifications about new activity as well. The same is true for any other participants.

Bubbles is completely free to use, and its founder tells me the plan is for it to remain that way eternally — at least for this manner of use. Down the road, the service will ultimately offer a paid business option that'll add in team-wide insights and content management. So that's how the company hopes to make this profitable, in case you were wondering. (The service's privacy policy confirms that there's no manner of data selling, info-sharing, or anything else alarming going on. And videos you create with Bubbles are discoverable only by people who have your link.)

Bubbles can work its Chrome sharing magic with static screenshots as well as with videos, but we've got other exceptional tools that can handle that. It's the way the app brings your screen, voice, and contextual comments together that makes it especially noteworthy — and makes it a worthwhile addition for your own productivity toolbox.

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