Web Apps & Collaboration: The Big Picture

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Collaboration and Web Apps: The Big Picture

Previously, I talked about Collaboration being one of the key features of web applications. In this post, I want expand more on that point.

I am sure all of us agree that the key advantage of web based applications is Collaboration. There are other advantages like mobility etc. But thats for another post. Lets look at how collaboration is evolving in online applications. Before that let us look at communication applications first and later we shall talk about their role in collaboration.

Communication Apps:

Today we use different types of communication tools on a daily basis. These tools include Discussion Forums, Email, IM, Audio Conferencing, Video Conferencing, Web Conferencing etc. Some of these tools are used along with others for better/effective communication. Each of these communication tools are intrusive than the other. Forums are less intrusive than Email which is less intrusive than IM which is less intrusive than Audio Conf etc.

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Collaboration Tools:

With the advent of web applications we have seen a different type of collaboration with ‘Collaborative Editing’ on content where multiple users can work on the same application/content at the same time seeing each other’s changes immediately. In this case, all users are (literally) on the same page working on the content making collaboration effective with out the hassle of emailing attachments and managing versions.

These ‘Collaborative Editing’ and ‘Virtual Whiteboard’ type of functionalities in web applications is just the stepping stone for more broader and deeper integration. These features mark a significant change in the way we work. Instead of emailing attachments, we email a link (Remember, Document is a URL). The communication tools like Email, IM etc are used for the right purpose – to communicate the changes and not for pushing the content.

Collaboration + Communication Tools

What we will see next is a combination of collaboration and communication tools. Each of the communication tools I mentioned will be integrated into web applications that focus on collaboration. A user might prefer one type of communication than the other. So it is important for web apps to provide different types of communication tools for effective collaboration.

In fact we already see this happening in our own applications. Email is integrated into Zoho Writer where you can email a document (selecting a format) directly from the application.

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Similarly, Zoho Chat is integrated into Writer/Sheet/Show/Notebook etc enabling instant communication.

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With the recent addition of Comments feature in Zoho Writer, a mini discussion forum is integrated to discuss the comments…and then in Zoho Notebook, we have integrated Skype for audio and video communication. You’ll see other communication tools eventually integrate into such web applications.

We certainly see this as the direction web applications will evolve integrating different types of communications in multiple ways. Instead of content revolving around communication tools, the communication tools will now revolve the content.


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Spot the changes in Zoho Chat

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Sound Notification

Due to overwhelming requests from our users, we have composed a new tone for sound notification (to indicate message/online/offline status). Hear it and let us know your feedback. Thanks to our own music director, Ramesh of Zoho Sheet, who made the composition :-)

Message Notification & Smileys

We have tuned the message notification a bit by scrolling the message on the title bar.

Zoho Chat now provides ways to express your emotions through glossy smileys. Don’t get surprised if you feel like it has got the ToonDoo flavor since we brought it out of their favor!

Internationalization

Zoho Chat is now available in two more languages other than English. Japanese gets the credit of the first non-English version of Zoho Chat followed by Tamil (I tried my hands on it, don’t know whether my Tamil teacher will be happy or worried on hearing this news ;-)). You will find more languages supported in our upcoming updates.

Note: As of now, you need to configure your browser’s default language for the corresponding translation. We are in the process of configuring it right inside Zoho Chat. Till then, please stay tuned.

New Look & Feel for Zoho Chat

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Based on our users’ feedback, Zoho Chat’s update today introduces a new theme. In addition to the existing tab-based theme, you can now have floating (drag-and-drop) chat windows on a desktop theme. These chat windows are now within the Zoho Chat browser tab but soon we will be giving the pop-out option as well. The new theme’s available in two gradient color styles, blue & black, with more colored skins to come.

Desktop theme – Black
Desktop theme – Blue
Tabbed theme

Zoho Meeting Now Open to Public

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Now that it’s been a week since we launched Zoho Creator 2.0, it’s time for another announcement. Today we are opening Zoho Meeting to public.

We announced Zoho Meeting in March and it was in Private Beta till now. Today it steps out as a Public Beta where anyone with a Zoho Account can use Meeting. The application is free while it is in Beta.

For those of you who are not very familiar with Zoho Meeting, it is a web conferencing application where you can schedule meetings with others and share your desktop. Apart from sharing your desktop, sharing a presentation is an important part. For this reason, we integrated Zoho Meeting with Zoho Show (our presentation application) where a desktop sharing session can be embedded inside a slide. Zoho Meeting is also integrated with Zoho Chat.

One of the advantages of Zoho Meeting is that the attendees can be on any operating system to attend a meeting. Here are some quick highlights of Zoho Meeting.

  • Create Meetings, share desktop with multiple attendees
  • Attendees can attend the meeting from any operating system
  • Comes with three viewers – Active-X, Java and Flash
  • Participants can choose to control presenter’s desktop
  • Meeting Viewer can be embedded into web pages and applications
  • Zoho Show and Zoho Chat is integrated into Zoho Meeting
  • Zoho Meeting is currently free while in Beta

Here is a quick video of the application.

Try Zoho Meeting out and we would love to hear your valuable feedback comments.

MIT Technology Review writes about Zoho

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Richard Brandt at MIT Technology Review has an article on Zoho titled “Can Zoho beat Google?“. From the article :

Zoho has become a prolific designer of online software tools, releasing at least one new product every month for more than a year. It boasts 15 product offerings so far, including a word processor, a spreadsheet, a presentation tool, a Wiki, a project manager, a customer-relationship management (CRM) tool, a database, and a project-planning tool. Bloggers who have tried the software say it’s more robust than online applications offered by Google, and it offers better collaboration capabilities (for example, it lets multiple people work on a document simultaneously or sync spreadsheets with remote data from websites) than products from Microsoft. Zoho’s fans see it as the model for a new generation of Web-based applications that could displace expensive software sold by Microsoft.

Zoho is the suite to beat. A Gartner report released on March 12 placed Zoho at the top of its list of “Cool Vendors in Web 2.0,” five companies that offer “a glimpse into the future of enterprise innovations.” Says Gartner analyst Nick Gall, “Zoho is ahead in the user community and in the technology.”

Thanks to Richard Brandt & MIT! In other news, The Social Computing Magazine has a write-up on Zoho Notebook titled “Zoho Notebook: One-Stop Business Collaboration Tool“. And in a blog post on Zoho Notebook at weblogg-ed, Melinda Miller has this to say about Zoho Polls in the comments :

I really like zoho polls. One of my 4th grade teachers used it in class one time so now I use it all the time with my staff. We voted on our theme for next year, planning for next year’s holiday party, and staff shirt preferences. Here is a link to my school blog with the zoho poll embeded.

In a post titled “CRM on the Cheap“, Davey Moyers writes,

Looking for an inexpensive, robust CRM program? Why not check out Zoho CRM. The price is right, free for three users. I have been giving this system a test drive, and there’s power under the hood. Full CRM functionality. It lacks mobile capability or offline use, but otherwise this is a solid player for the individual sales rep or small team. It also boast Outlook synchronization that is as good as the competitors in this space. The features I especially find appealing are lead management, opportunity management, and sales quotes…. I spent four years using salesforce.com on a daily basis, and I would pit this program against salesforce.com in all categories save one. Offline and mobile are not yet offered. However, the print templates on Zoho are much better than salesforce.com. So you plan it, print it, execute it. Whatever “it” is.

Amit Agarwal has a nice post explaining how to embed Zoho Sheet’s charts in one’s blog. Zoho Chat’s shoutbox feature (embedding a chat window in your website) has been put to good use by a community named Cerebrals Hens Network. Cool background options, guys! And our recent REST API release got noted by Thomas Willingham & Go To India Web 2.0.

Thanks, one & all :-)