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Archive for the ‘Project Collaboration’ Category

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.

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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?

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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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We’ve taken our service one step further by giving you a richer experience when using Joint Contact! Here are some highlights:

 

Rich Text for Conversations and QuickMail
No more plain text for your Conversations or QuickMail! The most notable new enhancement is the implementation new HTML / Rich Edit controls for the Conversations and QuickMail windows. Create HTML automatically as you type, or edit HTML tags directly using the source editor. Edit windows are also equipped with wizards to create lists, links, tables, different colors, fonts and styling. You can even write HTML to reference images and content from other blogs or websites.

 

 

With this new functionality you can use Joint Contact as a robust note manager – great for helping you to track meeting minutes, blog postings, classroom notes, etc. By linking your notes to Documents, Images or Tasks, you have a great documentation tool for any project.

 

Upload multiple Images at once
The multiple-upload feature was originally for documents, but is now available for images! Now you can upload a entire directory of images in a single click – a great feature for graphic designers and marketing folks.

 

HTML signatures when sending QuickMail
As part of our Rich Edit implementation, administrators can now save an HTML email signature as part of their settings (why can’t Gmail can do this?). Once setup, the corresponding signature will be appended to all outgoing QuickMail messages.

 

Redesigned Contacts interface
The Contacts interface has been redesigned for greater ease-of-use. Based on user feedback we’ve also provided the ability for you to convert a Contact into an Account with a single click! (For those who don’t know “Accounts” can log in to share documents and other content their group; “Contacts” don’t have this ability.) You can also now e-mail your Contacts directly using QuickMail.

 

 

We are very excited about this release and look forward to hearing your feedback. Log in to your Joint Contact account today and let us know what you think about the richer experience. Feel free to post your feedback at our new Customer Forum site located at support.jointcontact.com.

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Coined by Tim O’Reilly and O’Reilly Media in 2003, “Web 2.0” speaks to how the collective minds of people bring value to everyone through the use of the Internet. At Joint Contact we like to think of this as the “Power of Us“. Although exciting, the Web 2.0 movement has ushered in a host of new business trends and technologies that can leave one feeling dizzy and often confused. This article attempts to unravel the mystery of this growing technology trend.

 

What happened to Web 1.0?
In trying to define Web 2.0 many of us still don’t grasp the concept of “Web 1.0” and how things have evolved in the past few years. Although we haven’t heard of any organizations or think tanks that have come up with an official definition, our group defines Web 1.0 as the “Power of Me“. If we go back to the late 90’s, businesses began to harness the power of the Internet in order to extend brick and mortar businesses to reach customers in places they never thought possible.

 

Soon it became clear that the Web could not only allow companies to increase sales, but could help reduce costs by providing self-service tools and processes. Now banks, grocery stores, investment firms, travel agents, department stores and airline companies all use web based tools to help them reduce organizational costs by promoting online customer self-service. Companies like Dell Computer were also quick to see its advantages and were able to shrink their supply chain by selling computers direct to consumers, bypassing the need for storefronts and product resellers.

 

Current Trends
Now that most of us have adapted to the first version of web, “Web 2.0” is allowing us to extend the 1.0 model by connecting with others. At Joint Contact we see Web 2.0 as a combination of sub categories. These include “connecting with people we don’t know” and “connecting with people that we do know”.

 

Connecting with people that we don’t know
Examples of this trend are seen with “Social Networking” sites such as MySpace, Facebook and Linked-In. Chances are that if you’re reading this article, you understand the basics of this model, and probably use one of these sites on a periodic basis.

 

Lately we’ve been hearing the phrase “Social Media”. Our assumption is that the idea of connecting with people that you don’t know extends not only through web pages and blogs, but through other types of media including audio and video. Podcasting (audio or video) through iTunes and YouTube are great examples of services that increase in value based on the collective participation of its contributors.

 

Creating value with those you don’t know isn’t limited to business or personal networking. Ongoing projects such as Wikipedia, Linux and the Mozilla Foundation (e.g. FireFox) are initiatives based on the participation of people working together to build online encyclopedias, desktop operating systems and software.

 

Connecting with people that we do know
On the other side of Web 2.0 are services and technologies that allow us to connect with people that we do know. This is a nice bonus of the Web 2.0 movement, as people are now discovering they can also use the web to collaborate and share information across vast distances for relatively little cost.

 

Before Web 2.0, sharing computer data within groups to was limited to establishing a local or wide area network and setting up the appropriate software to connect each computer. Information retrieved was also limited to the desktop which meant you couldn’t easily share your list of contacts or files with your colleagues that used Mac OS or Linux (yes we are assuming you run Windows).

 

Under Web 2.0, the goal is to share information without any limitation in technology or infrastructure. This popular trend has created a foundation for open standards such as HTML, XML, RSS, OPML and iCalendar formats that are used to connect people with information – regardless of platform or device type. Building on these standards many companies (including Joint Contact) have built web based solutions that transcend the need for a LAN by providing these applications as a software “service”.

 

Similar to their social media counterparts, SaaS (Software as a Service) applications are designed to enhance communication for groups that need to share information. Examples of SaaS based applications include Document Management and Collaboration (e.g Joint Contact), Customer Relationship Management, Timekeeping, Wiki’s, Calendar Management, Task Management, Defect Tracking Systems and Project Management.

 

Where do blogs fit it in?
Because blogs are easy to setup and update, blogging is one of the fastest growing areas of the Web 2.0 movement. Joint Contact considers blogs to be hybrid of Web 2.0 categories as they can be implemented to meet different needs. For example, a blog can keep customers informed of product announcements (like ours), provide help documentation, or can voice opinions on news, politics or technology. One trend that we see emerging are small groups coming together in a “co-op” fashion to blog on a number of closely related topics. Successful examples of this can be seen at sites like Slate, SimpleTalk, Digg, ReadWriteWeb and WebWorkerDaily.

 

Blogs are also unique Web 2.0 solutions as they incorporate technologies like RSS that are traditionally used in SaaS based offerings (Click here to learn more about RSS and XML).

 

Beware of Buzzword Bingo
Now that you understand the basics of Web 2.0 one item you should be aware of is “Buzzword Bingo”. Buzzword Bingo occurs when people use cool technology phrases like “Web 2.0” to describe anything technical, and is usually unrelated and nonsensical. Why do people do this? As with anything in business, people like to show off and demonstrate how they are more in touch with the latest trends than the next person. Here’s a great example from IBM of Buzzword Bingo in action:

If you hear your colleagues talking about “value added, disruptive, AJAX based, SEO applications” as being a part of Web 2.0 movement, take what they say with a grain of salt.

 

We’ve covered a lot of ground in this overview but hopefully things are starting to make sense. This tutorial is continued with an overview of RSS and XML technologies.

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When implementing new features we often gather suggestions from customers, partners and prospects. Now and then we also search the blogosphere for tips and suggestions. As a result we’ve discovered that people have been looking for a nifty little feature we were glad to include. This new feature allows you to see the login audit history of any account you add to Joint Contact.

As seen in the screenshot, when you add accounts into Joint Contact, the date/time of when they were added is listed under the “Last Login” column. If the user hasn’t used their account we display the text of “Never Logged In”. This relatively small feature often has big implications, and is a great feature if you are victim of office politics (like many of us are): As an administrator you can determine:

  • When customers/team members are using their account to access documents and communications.
  • How often they are using their account
  • Which people have still to use their account

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A popular request we’ve been getting is for an area where users can share and manage images. As a result, we’ve created a new module in Joint Contact called “Images”.

You might be asking, “Doesn’t Joint Contact already support the upload of images?”. This is correct, we do currently support the upload of images in the Documents section. What’s different in the new Images area is the ability to easily view all of your images on one page. The browser window displays all images in a 100×100 thumbnail. Under each image is a description of the image including captions.

Images are organized by projects so users can easily manage their images. From the thumbnail browser you will also be able to filter based on project or Workspace.

Images

When you click on an image thumbnail, you will enter the image detail window. This window allows users to view and edit details about the image. There is also an option to download the image. You can also notify the project participants of new changes to the image through this window.

Image Detail

Log on today and check out this new feature. We’re very interested in your comments so do send us your feedbacks. It is much appreciated.

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