Finding a good place on the web to chat with your colleagues can be tricky. You could use IM, but establishing a common IM network for everyone can be a hassle. You could also use IRC, but getting it set up can be a challenge. HipChat provides an easy-to-use, private alternative to using IM networks for group chat and collaboration, with a few useful added extras, such as file sharing and chat rooms, thrown into the mix.
If you’ve used 37Signals’ Campfire, HipChat (which launched in January) is very similar, although it provides a greater range of access options — from your desktop, you can use the nicely designed web site, or the slick Adobe AIR desktop client (which works on Windows, Mac and Linux). The company has also just rolled out additional mobile access options: optimized versions of the site for both the iPhone and Android devices, and you can also use SMS messages to interact with the service. Setting up an account for your team is easy and takes just a few minutes.
As well as group and one-on-one chat functionality, HipChat offers a few useful additional features, including chat rooms (so you can make rooms specifically for teams or projects — private rooms are available on the more expensive plans), searchable message history (so you can see who said what, when — and colleagues who log in midway through a chat can look back over the whole thing), and customizable pop-up notifications of chat activity. HipChat also includes a file-sharing and storage service, which provides a quick and easy way to get feedback on documents and collaborate with colleagues in the cloud (if you’re interested in cloud working, you should check out our Structure conference in June).
Here’s the demo video, which gives a good overview of the app’s features and a feel for the interface:
HipChat’s pricing plans are pretty much on par with Campfire’s, and range from free (for up to four users, 25 MB storage, no private rooms) to $99 per month (for as many as 100 users, 20 GB of storage, private rooms). A full-featured 30-day free trail is available.
Let us know what you think of HipChat in the comments.
Related GigaOM Pro content (sub. req.): Report: The Real-Time Enterprise