Collaboration is always a challenge for any team, but when that team is virtual, cloud collaboration presents its own set of organizational and tracking problems. GroupSwim is looking to step into the slot between e-mail correspondence and full-featured robust project management systems ala Basecamp. According to the company, GroupSwim is not for the management of a project but for the collaborative exchanges during the creation of deliverables.
While one of the company’s tag lines is “social collaboration for the enterprise,” I always look at software and apps from the standpoint of the lone Web worker who puts together various virtual teams for projects. Can GroupSwim be useful to distributed Web workers?
From the demo I saw of GroupSwim, the first thing that came to mind was a “smart” tool. GroupSwim uses “semantic technology” to create relevance and linkages between information and people on teams for any given project. Some aspects of this technology include:
1. Autotags – While the app will present possible tags for messages and other content submitted to each group site, you can also train the app to key in on important terms. This improves labeling and searching for relevant content down the road.
2. Focus – By providing greater relevance, search results within the group’s correspondence and work is more focused. The system even extrapolates the most popular content based on what has been read, replied to, and monitored.
3. Inferred Expertise – The system identifies individuals on a team who may have an expertise on particular topics based on their communications and responses to their communications from other team members. If you need to know who on the tream really understands social media, the system could point the way.
4. Related Information – Based on content entered including tags, the system recommends other content within a group’s interactions that may be relevant or related. At this time, related content is not pulled from the Web but this may be a future feature.
5. Instant Discovery – This is the “smart” search engine that evolves as the grup evolves and uses more tags. Tags appear in a tag cloud to also point out “hot” topics.
Web workers may prefer to set up a single GroupSwim site with multiple groups under it that can cover different projects or clients as well as different areas of a project utilizing different teams or parts of a team. A Web worker can set some of the groups to be common content for all team members while only giving certain team members access to other groups based on their involvement in a project.
GroupSwim offers role-based permissions for team members and your group types can be public, private, auto-join or custom. The company is rolling out a wiki feature in September that will be WYSIWIG and add another collaborative dimension to the application. All forum discussions, file feedback, and eventually wiki content can be received by team members either through an RSS feed or via email notification.
The tool offers various views and ways to access or break down content and discussions to zero in on exactly the information you need. You can sort by topic popularity or at a glance determine what topics are more popular based on a green bubble demonstrating the greatest activity.
You can also add a document for group collaboration by attaching it to a discussion, emailing the file into the system or uploading it directly. The system uses Scribd’s iPaper application for previewing uploaded documents in an elegant way.
Another upcoming feature will be integrated tasks although the company says they still are not looking to compete with the Basecamps of the world.
While all of the features of GroupSwim could potentially help a Web worker collaborate on multiple projects with far-flung teams, the pricing of the application leaves individual Web workers in the dust. At minimum monthly fee of $150, I personally won’t even consider a tool like this, no matter how smartly it operates. Right now, I spend $24 for Freshbooks to manage my invoicing and $24 for Basecamp where I get a sufficient amount of organization and collaboration for my needs.
But if you really like the features of GroupSwim and think you might want to use it as a Web worker with a distributed team, contact the company and give them your feedback. Their pricing model is still new, and they seem willing to consider an alternate pricing plan for those of us who are non-enterprise level.
How can you see an application like GroupSwim fitting into your work process or can you? What other tools are you using for collaboration with your virtual team versus project management?