Email is a great tool for office communication, but is it really the best way to keep track of discussions? There are other choices, like communicating via IM or using wikis. Yet another option is ShareFlow, a new app from Zenbe, the people behind the popular Zenbe Lists iPhone app and web service.
ShareFlow is basically a threaded comments system for your business. And it just so happens that a threaded comments system is exactly what most office communication needs. It’s also free for an entry-level account, so is priced perfectly for my budget. The best part? Each plan includes access for unlimited users, so organization size is immaterial when it comes time to picking a plan.
Registration and Initial Setup
The second-best part? It takes all of about 10 seconds to sign up, which regular WWD readers will know is a huge benefit in the opinion of this registration-weary reviewer. Once you’ve signed up, you’ll see that ShareFlow most closely resembles Facebook’s redesigned home screen, minus the interminable stream of annoying surveys.
Once you’ve been invited to partake in a “flow” (a conversation), or created one yourself, you can post comments, files, emails, events or maps to the ShareFlow stream. You can add other users to your flow by clicking the “Invite” link, at which point they’ll receive an email from which they can view the flow (and easily sign up, if they don’t yet have an account, without being redirected to another page).
Posting and Content
Users will have to keep their ShareFlow window open, or subscribe to an RSS feed for the flow in order to receive updates, since emails are only sent for invitations, and not for subsequent additions/changes made by flow contributors. At first this seemed puzzling, but when I considered that ShareFlow is meant to be an email alternative, it made much more sense. Plus, with RSS support built in, there’s absolutely no reason to ever miss any updates.
The ability to post other things, like files, emails, events and maps is a huge bonus, and Zenbe implements all of these features very well in the app. It doesn’t overwhelm you with options; it just asks for exactly the right amount of information required to complete the associated function. Clicking on “files” instantly opens a file browser window and upload dialog box, for instance, and “map” allows you to type in an address and then automatically retrieves the best-guess Google Map for whatever entry you make. This is all achieved without leaving the main dashboard window.
If you’re unable to access the ShareFlow web interface, you can also add updates via email, thanks to a unique email address created for each individual flow. When I tried this out, ShareFlow recognized and posted the emailed update to the flow almost instantaneously.
Filtering and Organization
Some nice extras are the ability to flag any post in your flow with a variety of icons, which provide great visual shortcuts for finding specific kinds of content. If you’re not crazy about a manual approach, you can also apply filters using a drop-down menu in the upper left-hand corner of the ShareFlow interface, which allows you to view only emails, pictures, movies, etc. Like every other feature in the web app’s arsenal, the filters here manage to be simple without sacrificing usefulness.
Conclusion and Pricing Options
With a free account, the only limits you’ll encounter are file storage space and the number of active flows you can have at any one time (five as of this writing). If you find the service handy, you might quickly find yourself reaching that cap. Tiered pricing plans ranging from $20 to $80 per month will get you between 25 and 200 flows, and a lot more storage, too. This is definitely one time I can see myself springing for the expense sometime down the road, so long as I can actually corral team members into switching from email to a much more conversational flow communications setup.
What’s your current team communication tool of choice?