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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

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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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Learning RSS & XML

With Web 2.0 we now have tools and technologies that can deliver content directly to our desktops, web browsers or mobile devices. We’ve gained familiarity with this model through the use of email, but new standards like RSS (Really Simple Syndication) allow the automatic delivery of news, events, or any kind of interesting timely information.

 

What is RSS?
Definitions of RSS will differ (depending on whether you speak with a business person or engineer) but it’s safe to say that RSS is regular text formatted so that it can be understood by different software applications or websites. RSS files are usually referred to as “documents” and are part of a larger family called XML (Extensible Markup Language). When RSS is applied to an information resource it is usually referred to as an “RSS Feed”.

 

What else is XML used for?
Other popular standards that make use of XML include WSDL (Web Service Description Language) and SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol). Combined, WSDL and SOAP work to connect software systems and Internet websites through the use of “Web Services”.

 

Another related Web 2.0 trend are “Mashups”. Mashups are sites based on the combination of several web services (e.g Zillow.com). Web services and Mashups are not directly related to RSS technology but deserve to be noted as they all make use of XML.

 

Open standards mean better choices
RSS and XML are considered to be open technology standards and are governed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Thankfully, Internet standards like RSS and XML are not owned by any specific company (e.g. Google, Microsoft), and are available for anyone to implement and use. The result is that you will find software and websites that support RSS running under Mac OS, Linux and Windows.

 

Tracking Blogs Through RSS
At some point someone figured out that adding an RSS feed to a blog was a great idea. With thousands of blogs being updated each day there can be a lot of content to track (imagine having 20 newspapers delivered to your home everyday). Accessing blog content through an RSS feed allows us to automatically receive the latest info whenever the publisher adds something new – almost like e-mail. To keep track of different feeds companies have built “RSS Readers” that allow you to organize your sites under one roof. Most RSS readers are freely available and can be downloaded as desktop application or are web based. The readers we like include Google Reader and NewsGator.

 

If you’re interested in setting up your own blog make sure your software supports RSS feeds. It will provide your audience with more options and will ultimately increase your readership.

 

RSS Beyond Blogging
At Joint Contact we like that RSS technology can be applied to solve many problems. Here are some neat ways companies are using RSS technology to stay in touch with their customers and increase business value.

 

The Seattle Networking Guide – Managing Events
The Seattle Networking guide is a site where people can find the latest information on networking events in the Seattle area. The site provides the ability for people to submit information about upcoming events, and allows users to search for content relevant to their business or industry.

 

Seattle Networking Guide

 

In addition to seeing event information by visiting the site regularly, people have the option of accessing the event content as an RSS feed.

 

The Seattle Networking Guide also supports Internet Calendar (iCal) technology. iCal technology achieves the same goal as RSS but is designed work with calendaring applications. A lot can be written about iCal technology as it is also very useful. Additional information about the iCal standard can be found here.

 

Joint Contact – Managing Tasks
Hopefully Joint Contact does not require any introduction. For those who don’t know, Joint Contact is an online project management and collaboration solution that enables people to share and manage group information such as documents, images, tasks, contacts, notes, discussions and team information.

Joint Contact Task Management

 

In this example a new task has been created called “Create Internet Calendar support for Tasks”. To the left of the main heading one can click the RSS icon to obtain an RSS feed. The users RSS feed will list all tasks assigned to them, and any tasks created by them.

 

In this example Joint Contact delivers the latest tasks using RSS – logging onto the website is not required. For people who specialize in project management (e.g project managers, freelancers, business owners) this saves time and keeps things organized. (Joint Contact also makes use of the iCal standard reference earlier).

 

Podcasting with iTunes
Apple’s iTunes (the software needed to synchronize your iPod) also makes use of RSS technology. Apple is famous for being secretive about how they develop software, but we do know their podcasting platform employs RSS technology.

Podcasting with iTunes

 

Surprised? When you submit a podcast to iTunes you do so using a special XML file that is based on RSS (for those interested in publishing podcasts technical information can be found here). Using RSS, publishers define the details of their show which typcially include the podcast title, description, categories and location of multimedia files. Once uploaded, a user can “subscribe” to a podcast and the content is automatically downloaded to their computer as new content is available.

 

Seattle Olympic Sculpture Park
Our last example is Olympic Sculpture Park Guide hosted by the Seattle Times. This site provides a virtual walking tour of the park but also includes audio files you can download through using iTunes (hyperlinks are located on the lower left of the illustration. Click on the image below to see a full size image). Providing multimedia content as an iTunes download is another Web 2.0 trend that provides a win-win situation for content providers and their audience. We’ve seen this same technique applied to radio stations, schools, colleges and universities.

Olympic Scuplture Park

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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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