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Hi,

As you may be aware, JointContact.com has recently gone through a change of ownership and I would like to take this opportunity to inform you of exactly what this means to you.

In short, nothing is going to change. All of your data and current projects along with all existing user information on our site will be kept intact. All of the tools and functionality that you have come to rely on to share and manage your project information will remain unchanged.

The transition of ownership will take place during this week (01/31/2011 to 02/05/2011) and for this period, the website will be unreachable at some times as we process the transfer to our new servers.

Once the transfer is complete, we will make available a survey to determine exactly how we can improve the site and its features for all of our user accounts. Of course, we cannot improve the site without including the one essential element that we hope will never change: you. As part of our survey, we will be finding out exactly what it is that you love about JointContact.com and where you think we could use some improvement.

If you have any questions or suggestions regarding the transition, please feel free to contact me at the following email address: support@jointcontact.com

Thank you for your time,

Sincerely,
JointContact

At Joint Contact we’ve heard from a lot of people interested our use and adoption of Twitter.  While many speculate if Twitter can actually be used for something useful, we are having no problems seeing how it can be used in our service.  This includes the ability to communicate project status, as well as the ability to organize Tweets.

 
With our latest release, Joint Contact now includes the ability to send automated Tweets when users add documents, images or tasks.  A function usually reserved for email, now team members can receive these messages through Twitter and its many tools.

Why do this?  As written in a recent article from ReadWriteWeb, communication with team members can now extend beyond the desktop because Twitter supports native text messaging (SMS).  This means that a manager can receive project updates using just their cell phone, even without internet access. Also Twitter is just plain fun – many professionals already use the platform for quick messages and basic communications (2 million users and counting at the time of this posting).

One question you may have is “Isn’t that insecure?  Using Twitter for business doesn’t make any sense unless I can secure it like email.”  We’ve also thought of this and would like to show how you can start using Twitter for business using Joint Contact and protected updates.

Twitter Notification Using Protected Updates
In this example we are updating an existing  Joint Contact task.  At the bottom of the interface we’ve set the option for “Send to Twitter”.  Once saved, our changes are updated in Joint Contact and a summary of the event is sent to Twitter.

The Twitter account used is a special account type known as a protected profile.  Protected Twitter profiles have the following properties:

1. Protected updates are not searchable or viewable by the general public.  This means that people cannot access these Twitter updates by simply typing in a URL.  Each user who views your updates must be authenticated by Twitter.  Here’s an example of someone trying to access our protected account without the proper authentication. As we can see access to the account is blocked.

2. Protected profile owners must approve “follow requests” to allow new people to view their updates.  This means you are in direct control over who views your messages.  It also means spammers cannot read your updates or send you unsolicited messages.  Here’s an example of what the approval window looks like.

If you are looking to establish Twitter for business communication we suggest configuring each team member’s account to support protected updates.  This way your group can gain all of the service advantages without sacrificing security. 

Let us know what questions, thoughts or ideas you may have. To learn more about Joint Contact and Twitter visit What’s Your Status as well as Why Twitter Matters to Joint Contact.

In our blog posting entitled “Why Twitter Matters to Joint Contact” we announced plans to integrate Joint Contact with the popular microblogging service called Twitter. Since then we’ve received a lot of media attention as one of the first (if not the first) to consider Twitter for business communications.

 

The folks at WebWorkerDaily had a chance to catch up with us and we had a great discussion about project collaboration and the role social media could play in business productivity.

 

At Arbutus we think business professionals are increasingly using social media technologies to communicate. Examples include blogs, wiki’s, and social networks. Twitter, however, is still thought of as a fun, casual way to stay connected with friends and co-workers.

 

While early adopters use Twitter as a social communication tool, we acknowledge Twitter’s potential as a business communications platform. Why? Because there’s a growing trend of people using Twitter as a replacement for email. As a result we’ve been able to implement some straightforward powerful features that build on our goal of integrating project collaboration and social media.

 

What’s your status?
For our latest product release our goal was to answer this question.  In addition to sending Conversations titles directly to Twitter, account holders can now update their current work status using their profile. For example, a team member can type “Organizing the committee meeting,” send that to Twitter, and other team members can access the Tweet using their cell phone, iPhone, desktop computer or another Twitter enabled website:

 

 

Your status is also saved to the Joint Contact Team Profile.  (The Team Profile provides contact information for members who share at least one workspace with you).   The Team Profile now becomes a manager’s dream-come-true as interested parties can always check on a group’s current status.

 

 

Making it work with your business
Ready to give it a try? If you’re already using Twitter we recommend that you create a second Twitter account for business. That way you can separate your business and personal Tweets. Once established, just add your Twitter credentials to your Joint Contact profile settings.

 

One advantage Twitter brings to business is its ability to be accessed by more devices / services than email. For example, a Tweet from Joint Contact can be received on a cell phone as text message.

 

Don’t Twitter? No worries! You can still use everything in Joint Contact without Twitter. This includes providing team status updates through the Team Profile as well as all the functionality in our Conversations module.

We are pleased to announce that micro bloggers can now post entries from Joint Contact directly to Twitter!   With the Internet world in a craze about Twitter we wanted to explain not only why Twitter matters,  but why we think it matters to Joint Contact.

 

The Concept
Twitter introduces a new concept in online communication known as micro blogging. Unlike a traditional blog, or even a text message or IM, a micro blog through Twitter limits your text communication to 140 characters.  Since the message size is limited, people use mirco blogs to send quick messages for communicating status.  Online services like Twitter have proven to be an innovative solution for up-to-the minute marketing, as micro bloggers can broadcast quick messages about a new website, blog entry or product launch.

 

Micro blogging meets project collaboration
By integrating with Twitter, Joint Contact allows individuals to communicate their project status with other Joint Contact users as well as their Internet followers on Twitter.  Since people access Twitter messages using mobile devices as well as PC’s, it allows users to receive project messages from any Twitter enabled device. This includes the iPhone as well as popular desktop applications like Twhirl).

 



 

How it works
To get started, create a free Twitter account, then add your Twitter credentials to your Joint Contact profile. Once added, you can automatically send the title of any Joint Contact Conversation (aka message or discussion group) directly to Twitter.  Why Conversations?  This is place where messaging and group collaboration occurs.

 

 

The Twitter integration is an option available with any new or existing Conversation. Since Twitter only supports 140 characters per post, Joint Contact paragraph bodies are not included Twitter postings.

 

The ability to send Twitter messages from Joint Contact also solves another micro blogging challenge – managing your postings.   In our example below Twitter messages (Tweets) have been created based on a series of Joint Contact Conversations. Since Conversations are assigned to workspaces, Tweets can be organized by project folder and can also be combined with other actions. Here we see a few Conversations that have been linked to Documents and Images (see icons). These messages were also sent to our Internet followers as Tweets.

 

 

The integration of Twitter with Joint Contact opens up a new world of possibilities in the area of project collaboration. For those looking for a more robust Twitter client (and that’s a lot of us) it provides a means of not only being able to track Tweets, but the ability to manage Twitter communications with other related work items.

 

Note: To learn more about Joint Contact and Twitter check out our latest blog entry entitled What’s your status?

Crowdsourcing and coworking.  Two words that sound similar and are indeed connected.  Related to alternative work methods, coworking and crowdsourcing allow groups to join together to solve problems and create business value.  This article attempts to defines these trends and explores the ways in which they are connected.

 

Coworking 101
Many independent professionals dream of having their own office for conducting business with employees, partners and customers.  As is often the case, reality sets in and we discover that negotiating a lease as well as hiring a realtor, lawyer and subcontractor could put us out tens of thousands of dollars.

 

The alternative?  Starbucks or Tully’s.  Being able to meet with colleagues, grab a cup of coffee and perhaps check email while on the go is a great way to get business done and stay productive.  The coffee shop option can work, provided that your meeting topic is conducive to the location.  For example, it may be a great place to discuss ongoing projects, but may not be suitable for a first time meeting with a client or potential investor.

 

A new option that is gaining momentum is coworking.  Coworking combines the benefits of a traditional office with the coffee shop model.  The idea is that you come to work each day (to an actual office), but work in cubicles, small workstations or desks like you would at a coffee shop. Coworking allows you to network and connect with like-minded individuals,  allowing you to share common interests and potentially share resources.  The fact that each worker represents a different company or interest actually strengthens the network, allowing groups to form that represent various backgrounds and experiences.

 

Crowdsourcing 101
The term “crowdsourcing” relates to large groups that are organized to solve a specific problem.  Mentioned frequently in relation to Web 2.0, crowdsourcing is often associated with other terms like “mass collaboration”.    The crowdsourcing model can been seen in many Web 2.0 applications currently being used to today such as Wikipedia and Joint Contact.

 

Building on the idea of a traditional printed encyclopedia, Wikipedia solves the problem of content  management and creation by permitting anyone (anywhere) to contribute to its online archives.  An enthusiastic volunteer force of contributors provides not only an adequate number of topics to rival Encyclopedia Britannica, but redefines our notion of an informational resource by providing a number of unique and diverse subjects.

 

Joint Contact also supports the crowdsourcing model by allowing groups to create documents, tasks, discussions and other items related to project management.  Joint Contact solves the problem of information management, allowing professional groups to build supportive models that foster communication and collaboration.

 

Making the connection
Crowdsourcing and coworking provide tremendous benefits to the small business community.  Under a coworking model, individuals who have complementary skills can work together to answer questions, provide different points of view and create value.  As mentioned,  the benefit of gaining different perspectives when faced with a problem are usually better than working in isolation.

 

Crowdsourcing relates to coworking in that both groups (virtual and physical) are likely to produce more than if they where to work independently.   For example, conducting an in-person project review meeting will always produce diverse and interesting results.  In some cases, more questions may be produced than answers which may result in your project taking a new and unanticipated direction.

 

Social networking websites like LinkedIn represent the coworking model in the virtual world.  One example of this concept is through the use of LinkedIn’s “Answers”.  Using Answers, people submit questions to the LinkedIn community that may be related to business, marketing, technology or human resources.  Under this crowdsourcing model thousands of people instantly access this information, allowing them to respond, contribute and add value.

 

Lastly, both models allow small business owners to benefit from economies of scale, allowing entrepreneurs to reduce their monetary cost by spreading any expenses with their peers.  Surprisingly, crowdsourcing and coworking are based on a similar pricing model, if cost does become a factor.  In small business, this provides great flexibility as circumstances often change.

 

Even though coworking is not a definitive technology, it can be associated some of the most widely adopted technology concepts and services available.

Many of you have enjoyed the rich document management functionality included in our service. As a result we’ve been looking for new ways to enhance these capabilities to make it even more simple, safe and secure.  Our answer – document based security permissions.

 

How it works
When adding documents you can now set your documents to have “Workspace” or “Specific” permissions. As the names implies, documents set with “Workspace” permissions are accessible to everyone that is assigned to a folder. As seen the file “dataport.jpg” has been assigned the default permissions of “Workspace”.

 

 

To change permissions just select the appropriate link under “Permissions / Details” and then choose “Update File Permissions”. The new security window allows you to grant permissions to everyone in your workspace, just yourself or a select group of workspace participants.

 

One of the nice things about the last option is the ability to grant file permissions by entering a series of email addresses.   Joint Contact will validate each email address, ensuring each account has permissions to the assigned folder before updating the record.

 

 

People who are file owners have the ability to set/edit file based permissions. File owners include anyone who uploads a new file. Account administrators have access to all document management capabilities and can set permissions on any uploaded file.

 

Why it works
File based permissions allow you to extend the traditional “Workspace” security model, allowing for greater control and flexibility – almost like file management on the desktop. For example, a graphic designer can create a single workspace entitled “Project Documents”, assign all their customers to a single workspace, then limit which documents each customer can see through the use of file based permissions. The result being each customer will see different files using the same project folder.

 

File based permissions are also convenient for managing document drafts. Files can be uploaded to a selected workspace and permissions restricted to a few people. Once the document is complete one can update the permissions for access to an entire group.

 

We hope that you enjoy this advanced functionality and use it to discover new and interesting ways to manage your files!

Getting overwhelmed trying to manage projects using email and spreadsheets? As part of the Web 2.0 movement the emerging trend called project collaboration is allowing people to connect with others to share, manage and coordinate on small and big projects alike.

 

What is project collaboration? Consider the difference between a Gantt chart and email. A Gantt chart is typically used as a planning tool for upcoming projects. Gantt charts are also useful as a tracking mechanism to ensure that active projects stay on time and on budget. On the other hand, email acts as an important communication tool that is used throughout the course of a project. For example, email may be used to used to distribute important messages, status reports, documents or tasks.

 

Web based collaboration tools allow you to extend your own project management toolset, allowing you to manage and organize the communication aspects of your active projects. At Joint Contact we call this “working on the present”.

 

What’s wrong with using email?
Easy and convenient, most of us have become accustom to using email for all types of communication. Now that we’ve entered into a Web 2.0 era most of our business communication is done through email which can often lead to challenges such as:

 

  • Attempting to track a group of messages for a specific project
  • Trying to locate the most recent version of a document
  • Bounced messages due to large file attachments
  • Attempting to share a contact list

 

Another challenge is “email bankruptcy”. Coined by Lawrence Lessig in 2004, email bankruptcy occurs when the amount of messages you receive per day outweigh the number of messages you can view or respond to. As a result you’re always behind in your work which causes you to throw up your hands in frustration and declare “bankruptcy”.

 

How project collaboration can help
At Joint Contact people use our service for everything including timekeeping, employee getting started documentation, team announcements, feature tracking, document management, managing images and contact management. For many folks items that were getting “lost” in e-mail are now organized in a separate online tool, easily accessible to team members and partners.

 

Since we specialize in project collaboration we often talk with others who are overwhelmed at the sheer number of other tools available on the market. “Collaboration” is a popular Web 2.0 buzzword, so how do you know which tool is right for your group? Since we’ve covered some of the basics, here are our suggested guidelines for choosing the right service.

 

Make sure it’s easy to get started
Make sure you are comfortable with the tool before making your decision. As manager or group leader you should also envision how your group members will use the tool. A good rule of thumb is if you think you’ll have to train other people on how to use the tool (for more than 30 minutes), there’s probably an easier service out there.

 

A good strategy for beginning is to start using the tool for your yourself, mastering a single area of the application (like documents) before exploring other modules. As part of your development envision how your team members will also use the tool. If you can see how it will work for both yourself and your group you’ve probably found the right service.

 

Make sure the tool works on Mac OS as well as Windows
A colleague recently told me that Apple’s Mac OS X operating system now has 7% of the overall PC market.

 

Even though 7% seem like a small percentage, this translates to roughly 6.3M desktops based on recent global statistics. As a result, chances are at some point you’ll need to access the website using an Apple computer using Safari or Mozilla Firefox as a web browser. Make sure that your investment adopts leading standards and provides flexibility that you may need in the future.

 

Make sure the tool can handle a lot of big files
Your project collaboration solution should also allow you to share and manage large files, (or a large quantity of small files) with your group. Some vendors do a good job of mentioning this information upfront before you purchase, while others bury this information in the hopes you won’t find it.

 

The pitfall we often see are people that get excited to use a free tool, only to discover that the tool doesn’t support large fie sizes (e.g anything over 500K), won’t allow you to upload certain file types, or doesn’t support multiple document uploads. These lack of features may be a minor inconvenience for a student, but could halt business for a graphic designer, accountant, business consultant or lawyer.

 

Make sure the vendor will support you
Most collaboration services are measured by their features and overall usability. However, in the event that you have a pre-sales question or need customer support, ensure someone will be able to answer your questions in a timely fashion. If you’re not sure, explore the vendor’s site to ensure you can find a support number. You may not need to use it, but the fact that the vendor is confident enough to publish their number shows they are willing to support you when needed.

 

Will a Wiki work for me?
Wiki’s (the Hawaiian word for “fast”) have also gained in popularity in recent years, with the obvious successful example being Wikipedia. If you’re working on a large internal documentation project a Wiki could be good fit, as group members could dynamically create and edit web pages. Examples of documentation projects include creating help documentation, or keeping track of feature requirements on a new product or service.

 

One drawback of wiki’s is time. Most wiki’s are designed as a set of tools that are left up to the end users to set up and configure to their liking. These often go beyond the level of technical expertise of most business professionals, as users are left to decide how to design and publish the pages used within the wiki system. If you have a technical person on board that can help implement a wiki – great. Otherwise you’ll probably be better served using a more conventional tool.

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