Desperately Seeking Better Collaboration Tools

It’s a new year and like many companies, we here at Panorama Capital are trying to figure out how to better use our time and resources. One key area of interest for us is to increase our collaboration with our networks of advisers. Like most venture capital shops, we have formalized advisory boards that help us conduct due diligence on technology and markets. In addition to meeting with these advisers in person on a regular basis, we communicate with them electronically using mailing lists. And while we find mailing lists useful for disseminating information, as a collaboration tool we find them inadequate.

We use Google Groups as a listserv to archive our mailing list threads, but that really doesn’t provide a good collaboration environment. One common complaint we hear is that searching the mailing list archive is tedious and produces lots of non-relevant data -– an experience most of us can relate to, especially when searching a public forum or email archive. Given that we want to be a helpful resource for our advisers and encourage them to collaborate with us on a regular basis, providing inadequate tools is far from ideal.

What we would like to find is a set of collaboration tools that will allow us to build a knowledge base that is useful for both our internal diligence and our network of advisers. Ideally, the tool would take our mailing list traffic, automatically organize and tag it, and then allow context-based searches. Other desired features would involve both propagating popular information up and down the knowledge base and allowing members to rate it (perhaps in a Digg-like fashion).

I’ve looked at numerous solutions already. Being a reformed software engineer and open source advocate, I started with phpBB, but its implementation required more time and effort than I was willing to invest. I thought of building our own social network with Ning, but that didn’t seem to have the right tools to increase collaboration. On a friend’s referral, I then looked into Clearspace from Jive Software, only to realize that while this enterprise-class software could do what we want, it has more horsepower than we need and requires more system administration than we can support (see Anne’s previous coverage of Jive).

Since we all use Microsoft Exchange and Outlook (along with a Blackberry, part of the standard venture capital package, I’m afraid), I did poke around Sharepoint a bit, but this software seems focused on document collaboration. I even played around with GroupSwim , a company providing on-demand community collaboration software that looks very promising. Like Jive’s Clearspace, they offer the automatic tagging, search and knowledge base archives that we are looking for while maintaining email as the primary communication mechanism. I am hopeful our advisers can eventually start to use the web to collaborate vs. email, but I am not holding my breath.

How are you are using collaboration tools, either within your organization or between your organization and community? What works best — and what has been a disappointment?

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