ShopTalk: Real-time Team Chats

For many teams whose members are spread out across different locations, one of the biggest difficulties is finding a way to keep everyone in the loop. There’s no chatting around the water cooler, no way to stick your head into the office across the hall. ShopTalk is seeking to solve that problem using informal online chat rooms. The idea is that you can easily sit in on multiple chat rooms at once, while still getting your work done — not really an option with many current communications applications that mainly focus on offering solutions for meetings.

When you create a ShopTalk account, you’ll either join your organization’s existing chat rooms or need to add your organization at the same time. The system is built around interactions between team members. Interestingly, where many applications geared towards internal communication ask you to invite your teammates right off the bat, ShopTalk is a little more specific. As you’re setting up your account, you’re asked to invite three people: your most helpful colleague, your most experienced colleague and your most knowledgeable colleague. Even after you’ve completed signing up, adding another colleague is just a matter of typing in their email address.

You start out with a chat room titled “Banter,” and have the ability to add new chat rooms immediately. You can also share files across ShopTalk — the application offers an upload tool, which sends a link to your files in the chat room as well as thumbnails for image files. ShopTalk also allows you to look back on past chats. They aren’t exactly archived, though, and I’d love to see a search tool in the future.

ShopTalk organizes chat rooms as a set of tabs within one screen. There are visual alerts (in the form of highlighted tabs) to attract your attention whenever there’s activity in a chat room, but they’re not so intrusive that they’ll distract you from something else on your monitor. When you receive a direct message through ShopTalk’s system, you also get an audible alert so that you know when someone is contacting you directly. In a sense, most of the chat rooms function like a virtual office water cooler: you can pay as much or as little attention as you like, although if something really interesting is going on, you can tell. The direct messaging tool replaces the need to stick your head into a colleague’s office. It does feel more informal than meeting applications, which may prove to be a key selling point. It’s also easy to leave it running in a window while you get other things done.

Currently, ShopTalk is in beta and is free to use. During the beta period, you can add as many team members as you’d like. It is entirely web-based, which can be beneficial if you only need people to join certain discussions every so often. The interface is easy to use, with features like auto complete when you’re sending messages. ShopTalk is a product of Boomplex, a team of software developers who created the application so that they could discuss ideas easily.

Have you used ShopTalk or a similar app to provide a virtual office water cooler?

Related GigaOM Pro content (sub. req.):

Report: The Real-Time Enterprise

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