Thursday, February 09, 2006

Incubating Online



One of the key challenges of facilitating business startup ideas is having an effective, low-cost virtual collaboration capability. Emerging out of the Web 2.0, AJAX enabled Internet services is an exciting number of innovative offerings. I've been using several of these sites in managing virtual communications and projects. Not only are these tools effective, but they are also free!

Here are three sites I've been using:

www.Airset.com

Airset is a collaboration environment centered around calendaring. They provide a convenient tool to synchronize with my Palm, allowing full control over which appointments are shared based on categories. You can readily create multiple groups and easily manage merged views. The system includes the ability to selectively share contacts, to do lists and traditional discussion forum tools. The service is free with no published limitations. The system does not include any collaborative editing or filesharing capabilities. I use this system primarily to coordinate schedules with family members and as a convenient online backup for my Palm data.

www.37signals.com

37 signals is the creator of base camp, and effective and fairly powerful collaboration environment centered around project management. The level of project management is fairly simple, reduced to managing milestones and shared task lists. The free version of the service includes calendar views, a collaborative editing environment and forms. The free version allows you to manage only one project. If you upgrade, you get additional features such as filesharing, timekeeping and multiple project management. I use this system to manage virtual business startup projects.

www.zoho.com

ZohoPlanner is a very flexible collaboration environment centered around collaborative page editing (enhanced Wiki). Pages can be created, shared and organized to manage projects, to-do lists, appointments and shared files. The service is free with no published limitations. The site also allows direct contribution via e-mail, with each page having a unique e-mail address allowing you to add information remotely. The company also provides a free collaborative editing environment called ZohoWriter. I have not yet played enough with these products, but plan to use them on an upcoming project.

Summary

There is significant momentum in various companies offering Office-like applications online. The current trend is to offer more more capability for less and less cost. This is definitely an opportunity for consumers, however, one should always be careful when storing critical data on servers that you do not own. Having multiple copies ensures continuity in the event of a lockout or business failure of your favorite online collaboration resource. There is also rumored that Google is entering the fray and will compete directly for the online collaboration market. From observing the current trends, it would appear that there is a bright future for vast improvements in managing virtual teams at very little cost.