Desperately Seeking Better Collaboration Tools

52 Comments

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?

52 Comments

Anthony Barba

Like Allan we are using and very happy with MS Exchange, but looking for a project management solution that works with Outlook.

Evan

Allan,

It has been a year since your posting, what did you select? Do you have any lessons to share?

I am writing a paper for school on the implementation of a Collaboration tool for a company, so your insights would be very helpful.

Thank You
Evan

Tia

Hi Allan,

Have you ever tried Central Desktop? Well, in one sentence… Central Desktop is one of the best Project Management, File Sharing, Team Collaboration tools around. You’ve heard of Microsoft Sharepoint, right? Well, Central Desktop is 110% better. I’m confident it’s what you’re looking for.

CD will help you organize and share information efficiently, communicate with co-workers/colleagues (internal/external) and collaborate on projects.

Please check it out when you have a moment.
http://www.centraldesktop.com

Good Luck!

Best,
Tia

Scott

what uses do you see for a digg style system which allows you to vote up or vote down documents? this would obviously be of no use for need based documents that everyone needs to perform their tasks. it would work for collaborative learning tho, where knowledge articles/documents which many people have found interesting would be more visible.

badi

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Allan Leinwand

Thanks for all of the comments folks!

@Michael – I’ll check out HyperOffice.

@jc – our advisors are CTOs and CIOs of large companies. They want ease of use and are used to ineracting with us via email. I just can’t see sending them a raw file format of any sort and getting a better collaboration with them.

@Adam – thanks, I’d be curious to see the public beta.

Adam Benayoun

Hey Allen,

http://www.octabox.com might be exactly what you are looking for, right now it is still in private beta, but soon we’re releasing the public beta.

Octabox is intended to be a platform for small businesses and professionals individuals, from project management integrated with personal notes, mind mapping, a CRM module and several other modules.

jc

<<My main focus is to engage with our advisors proactively while giving <<them an archived resource to use as a knowledge base.

You could send them the raw .box file that contains the organized information. Or you could use the pdf builder, one menu click, and you get a fully bookmarked pdf file.

badi

Mundial Communications has just beta launched a UNIFIED MESSAGING AND COLLABORATION platform for the general consumer and SME. It just may be what you are looking for. The following screenshots speak louder then words:
http://www.mundialco.com/unifiedmessaging/2008/01/22/yambi-demo-screenshots/

You may also check our presentation at Proto.in at: http://www.mundialco.com/unifiedmessaging/2008/01/22/yambi-presentation-at-protoin-08/

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Sridhar

Hi:

If you get a chance, please check out “Study Hall” app on
Facebook. Soon it will be available on all other open social
social networks. It is a very easy to use and collaborative
tool – it has an education focus, but can be used for
all applications. Thanks.

Jason

Allan,

Thanks for mentioning GroupSwim. We are in full agreement with you that email must be a component of any effective collaboration tool or strategy. It is the lowest common denominator and has be part of the solution. We’ve also blogged on this topic if you want to check it out. Thanks.

http://blog.groupswim.com/

Christiene

Please check out Hyperoffice.com. You, too will find it as an excellent choice for a Microsoft Exchange Server-Alternative: user-friendly, available for a low-monthly subscription fee (no upfront capital required), completely web-based and highly accessible – you can access it from any PC or MAC with an internet connection; cross-platform and cross-browser compatible.

HyperOffice is also highly flexible; it can be more than your company intranet platform as it can also serve as a customer portal or extranet for your business.

http://www.hyperoffice.com

Christiene

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H= Hassle-free; you are up and running in minutes!
Y= Your preferred choice for a Microsoft Exchange
server-alternative: easy-to-use,affordable, secure and flexible; no
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E= Escape from IT overload; completely web-based, no software to
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R= Road-ready; accessible from any PC or MAC with an internet connection.
O= Outlook-compatible; you can keep using Outlook and share calendars,
documents, contacts, etc. without requiring Microsoft Exchange.
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F= Free Trial for 30 days without obligation.
I= Integrity and security of your data will never be compromised; with
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C= Comprehensive; includes more than 10 easy-to-use features.
E= Economical; offers online collaboration tools and value that used to
be found only in costly-corporate products at about $7 only per
month/user, allows you to add new members as your business grows.

Eric Sauve

Hi Allen,

You might want to check out our product – Tomoye Ecco – for partner collaboration. Strong on group collaboration (like Google Groups) with an additional component of social networking/ expert location.

We are in the process of launching our new application so can send you a link to the Beta demo if you like.

Eric

Allan Leinwand

@wendell and others – we’re not looking to replace MS Exchange, so moving to a new mailserver would be difficult to say the least.

@Hazel – thanks! I’d welcome a look at your project. It looks like this thread has given me a lot to consider!

@VoxiiTech – we’re definitely looking at the space, but more as users right now than investors. But, it’s always good to invest in what you know ;)

@Lee – thanks for the insights from RedHat!

@Suv – driving our advisors to website is difficult because these are very busy people who are already used to an email interface with us. I think that if we asked them to regularly check out a “Panorama Capital Advisors” website (host, web2.0 or otherwise) we would see little traction or utility. My main focus is to engage with our advisors proactively while giving them an archived resource to use as a knowledge base.

@David – thanks – I’ll check out Drupal and the other tools mentioned here!

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