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The Email Killers Updated: 14 Cloud-Based Team Collaboration Tools

  • Late last year I put together a slideshow on the various team collaboration apps gaining increasing relevance in the UC space. It's a fast-paced market, full of nimble startups in various stages of getting funded or acquired. A growing number of UC industry stalwarts have entered the space as well, with software that's in a continuous state of being updated and improved.

    So let's revisit the companies I previously profiled to see how they and their apps, pricing plans, and business strategies have changed. (New info in each updated slide is in italics.) And let's take a look at a few additional ones to see how they are standing out in this crowded and increasingly complicated landscape.

    Like last time, the number of applications and startups to consider has no end. Many come at team collaboration from unique angles, or have refocused their companies to better ride the team collaboration wave. Case in point: Nutcache, a developer of invoice tracking software that recently redesigned with more of a team collaboration focus. And there's Place from Orange, which remains under development but is an interesting example of how a traditional telco is dipping a toe into the team collaboration water.

    (Attentiv, Moovia, ProofHub, and Zula (the latter created by Internet telephony pioneer Jeff Pulver) are other examples of startups in the field. Each has interesting apps. Each warrants further investigation. But I won't be able to give them more than this passing reference.)

  • Taxonomy
    First, let's do a quick refresher as to what these team collaboration apps are...

    Think of them as chat forums that let small teams of knowledge workers collaborate on specific projects. They inevitably have text chat capabilities, document storage, and integration with a growing number of third-party apps. And they usually have some kind of document annotation, project management, and task assignment capabilities.

    Most have some kind of real-time voice and/or video communications baked into them or are available via integrations (which is why you're reading about them on No Jitter). And only occasionally are they available as premises-based software, but rather are delivered as public cloud services.

    For a somewhat more detailed description, check out the taxonomy slide in last year's slideshow.

  • Slack
    Refresher: In my previous slideshow, I described Slack as the minimalist among team collaboration apps. This continues to be the case, with the app obviously providing enough messaging and other capabilities to keep subscribers happy (given its extreme popularity) and relying on integrations to extend its functionality.

    Slack usage continues to follow a hockey stick path. The app reportedly has more than one million users overall, more than 500,000 daily active users (up from 300,000 when my slideshow posted in December 2014), and 300,000 users paying for their subscriptions (up from 73,000).

    Plenty has been going on with Slack over the past year in terms of improvements. Stuff like:

    • An Apple Watch client, a Windows client, and revisions to the Android client
    • A second price plan with enterprise-oriented features like single sign-on (SSO) and a published SLA
    • Twenty new third-party app integrations, bringing the number up to 100+

    But the more interesting improvement remains on the roadmap and involves real-time comms. Slack's pared-down feature set means the app still doesn't support voice or video natively, though subscribers can add integrations to Google Hangouts or other video services. But this is apparently about to change. Back in January Slack acquired Screenhero, a two-year-old startup whose "immersive screen sharing" service included native voice chat. Voice connections were point to point, and on the cusp of expanding to multiparty at about the time Slack acquired and promptly shuttered the service. (Existing Screenhero subscribers still have access to it, but Slack isn't taking new signups.)

    The plan is to add Screenhero functionality to one of Slack's paid plans. Slack declined comment on when it would be adding Screenhero-driven voice to the app, if that would be a point-to-point or multiparty offering, and if Slack's native comms functionality would be voice only, like it was with Screenhero, or video as well. So your guess on any this is as good as mine.

  • Glip
    Refresher: In my previous slideshow, I described Glip as having tens of thousands of users at hundreds of businesses posting more than 150,000 messages each week. In the past year, usage has steadily increased, and the company now says more than a million messages post weekly. Additionally, Glip tweaked the pricing plans, with caps on storage and app integrations lifted from the free plan. The mobile app got a "ground-up rewrite," and the 2.0 release comes with desktop apps. Finally, Glip began offering an analog experience for Luddites refusing to embrace digital collaboration (available since April 1, if you get my drift).

    But the most important change is the new ownership. In June, RingCentral acquired Glip in what is certainly an interesting move. Developers of team collaboration software have been keen to build out the real-time communications capabilities of applications that have historically been geared more toward message boards, document collaboration, and project and task management. But more often than not real-time communications has been restricted to users of the app itself. Voice calls to or from external participants is often impossible from within the apps. Glip should be able to overcome this limitation in short order, with RingCentral integration presumably providing a dial-out capability at some point for Glip users. And there's the benefit of getting business telephony and team collaboration from the same provider, as opposed to ordering them separately, receiving separate bills, and having them supported separately.

    In the near term, customers of RingCentral Office, the provider's hosted VoIP service, will get access to Glip Pro as an optional add-on. So in addition to audio, video, and Web conferencing, as well as other optional features, RingCentral Office customers will have a Glip-powered team collaboration app. Also in the near term, Glip customers will begin to see new RingCentral-powered telephony capabilities available via the team collaboration app. Some will be available for free, while others will come at an incremental cost. It's not yet clear exactly what telephony features RingCentral will bake into Glip, but customers should begin seeing the first fruits of the RingCentral integration this fall.

    In the long term, RingCentral could revamp the service as a freemium offering more reminiscent of what we see in the team collaboration app space, with a functional, free, but feature-spare collaboration at one end and full-fledged hosted PBX with all the team collaboration bells and whistles at the other.

  • HipChat
    Refresher: In my previous slideshow, I described HipChat as having carved out a niche among software developers, who have used it to share 3.5 billion messages and 22 million files in toto. Atlassian, which bought HipChat a while back, says that figure has now increased to six billion messages and 40 million files, with subscriptions growing by 50% this year. Headcount is also up, with about 100 people working on HipChat, compared with 65 a year ago.

    And the company has taken a serious step toward expanding HipChat's core market beyond the technical community. Said step was the May acquisition of Hall, which had been a direct competitor in the team collaboration space that had done particularly well building an app that appealed to enterprise subscribers. It integrated with enterprise apps like Salesforce, Zendesk, and Get Satisfaction. Enterprise features like SSO, Active Directory sync, data retention policies, and HIPAA compliance had been part of a new pricing plan in technical preview at the time of the acquisition.

    Atlassian has since shuttered the Hall app and either migrated customers (Amazon, JC Penney and VH1, among them) to HipChat or provided ways to export customer data on Hall to another service. Atlassian did retain the Hall development team, which is now working on ways to make HipChat more attractive to subscribers in the general enterprise space.

    Earlier this year Atlassian acquired Blue Jimp, a developer of the open-source Jitsi video conferencing software. It will continue to support Jitsi, which it plans on incorporating into future versions of HipChat. Currently HipChat only supports one-to-one video and screen sharing natively, with multipoint video requiring integration with a third-party app like Hangouts, GoToMeeting, or Appear. Jitsi, once baked into HipChat, will power video chat and screen-sharing capabilities, as well as provide HipChat with native multipoint video conferencing.

    In terms of new functionality, over the past several months Atlassian has added integrations -- Trello, Asana, and Twitter, in addition to the three video conferencing services mentioned earlier. And it offers a new on-prem deployment model that puts the HipChat software behind the corporate firewall -- something that customers in healthcare, financial services, higher ed, as well as in Germany, have requested.

  • Flowdock
    Refresher: In my previous slideshow, I described Flowdock as initially targeted at smallish teams of software devs but gaining appeal among enterprises thanks the Rally acquisition. Rally has seen particular interest in companies in the entertainment, communications, and financial services industries, with departments like marketing or HR looking to use cross-functionally within the organization.

    So not surprisingly, increasing enterprise appeal -- through a combination of new features and new pricing packages -- has continued to be a top initiative at Flowdock. To this end, the company has introduced:

    • An enterprise plan that adds SSO, a 99.5% SLA, premium support, and billing via invoice rather than credit card. This was in the works last year, but became GA in March
    • Inclusion in the Rally Unlimited Edition license, so enterprises subscribing to other Rally software get Flowdock as well
    • A Windows client for companies looking for a team collaboration app that runs on the PC like so many other business apps
    • Bidirectional integrations that let users create, update, and close tasks in Zendesk, Github, and Rally from within Flowdock

    The Flowdock folks have also released an Apple Watch app, and added about 20 more apps to the integration list. Among these are four apps that provide the SSO functionality for the new enterprise plan, and Room as an alternative to Screenhero and Hangouts for video chat.

  • Circuit
    Refresher: In my previous slideshow, I noted that Unify built Circuit from scratch, redirecting development around a highly futuristic communications platform called Ansible into a team collaboration app with strong comms capabilities.

    Like many of these apps delivered in a SaaS model, Circuit gets constant updates. Recently added features include:

    • Guest access to add non-Circuit subscribers to conversations
    • Audio recording (generally available) and video recording (in beta)
    • Android and Apple Watch clients
    • Social features such as @ mentions, voting, and a "Like" button

    Unify usually adds new features like these in four stages -- as a prototype, an alpha release, a beta release, and finally as GA. For example, a call recording alpha feature added in April went GA by June, while the Like button that entered alpha in May became GA in July. End users and admins can use features before they're GA or, using the Circuit Trial feature, can hide anything that's in alpha or beta. One such feature is a conference bridge that enables users to set up calls with guests or other users when persistent conversations may not be necessary.

    Unify has fewer integrations with third-party apps compared with other team collaboration software; Circuit integrates with Box for document storage, Exchange for Active Directory, and Open-Xchange for co-editing documents within a browser window. By the end of the year it expects to add Google Drive, Dropbox Drive, and SharePoint integrations -- and possibly more given that Unify has signed up 200 developers to work on external integrations.

    Voice and video chat have been native to Circuit since its initial release. Unify subsequently has added a SIP connector that lets Circuit users dial out to and receive calls from the PSTN via any SIP-based PBX. This works by forwarding calls dialed to an end user's office or mobile number to the phone number associated with Circuit. Unify has an Advanced Telephony Connector slated for release later this year, bringing additional call control capabilities between Circuit and the Unify OpenScape offerings. One such capability is One Number Calling, which will let the phone number associated with Circuit serve as the end user's only number. This effectively will let Circuit replace softphone client software. The ability to add video systems in conference rooms into a Circuit conference is anticipated in 2016.

  • Spark
    Refresher: In my previous slideshow, I placed Spark's origin in a team collaboration app that Cisco acquired a few years back. This team developed the core of what initially took the form of Project Squared and quickly morphed into Spark.

    If you're a Cisco UC customer, think of Spark as something in between Jabber (mainly one-to-one messaging for immediate communications using a buddy list) and WebEx (scheduled and impromptu Web conferences with multiple, perhaps large numbers of, participants). Spark has similar messaging and conferencing capabilities as WebEx, but is aimed at providing smaller-sized teams with persistent virtual workspaces and more informal conferencing environments. Spark has all the things you'd expect from a team collaboration app: group and 1:1 messaging, chat rooms, and document sharing. It also offers native screen sharing and video chat, with the number of simultaneous participants varying based on what plan you're using. Additionally, users can connect their mobile contacts and calendars to make setting up workspaces with anyone easy to do.

    You can track what's new in Spark's various Windows, Mac, Web, iOS, and Android clients. My favorite Spark enhancement: "Fixed a weird crash. When you try to download a file that you yourself have uploaded, and that file is still in the process of uploading, it would crash. Why would you do that? Don't do that. Anyway, it won't crash any more, even if you try."

    But the more significant change is Spark's move to a freemium model. Completely free while it was still a "project," Spark now has three distinct plans, one free and two paid. (More details on what's in each here.) Unlike it is on other team collaboration app sites, pricing isn't obvious on Spark's website, but No Jitter has reported availability of two paid plans costing $13 and $25 per user per month, respectively, with Cisco offering "different licensing models and discount tiers" when it makes sense. And with Spark subscriptions now appearing as a line on WebEx SKUs, Cisco's initial customer target for the service is clear.

    Spark will continue to evolve for quite some time. In the near term, Cisco is working on integrations with third-party apps common in other team collaboration software but that are all but completely lacking in Spark. Tropo, the cloud-based API communications company that Cisco recently acquired, is expected to play a central role in this. Further out things will get more interesting, with deeper integrations between Spark and business communications software -- Jabber and WebEx in particular -- in ways unlike other team collaboration apps. And in an upcoming WebEx release, meeting hosts will be able to move seamlessly from a WebEx meeting to a Spark collaboration space with the same participants.

    New features:

    • @ mention other users
    • Delete messages
    • Search for content, file type, etc., coming this fall; later search will be available for messages and content in documents
    • Real-time comms -- A click-to-join button for launching video is Spark to Spark only for now, with an internal project to deliver Spark-to-Jabber calls under way. Cisco will soon launch Spark to SIP end points, and plans to add PSTN capability
    • Tropo acquisition -- Cisco acquired this Twilio competitor, with its 250,000 or so developers, in May. The Tropo acquisition will impact APIs delivered, and Spark will get telephony capabilities

  • Wimi
    Refresher: In my previous slideshow, I described Wimi as having a sizable number of subscribers, many of whom were mainly using the app to share, transfer, and sync documents. Wimi responded to this unexpected use case by rejiggering its paid plans so they kick off with one -- called Doc, appropriately enough -- that's document-centric, as well as providing group chat and other communications features. Other plans add things like productivity services for teamwork, including agile task management, calendaring, video chat and screen sharing, LDAP integration, and document recovery.

    Wimi has mostly delivered on the real-time communications capabilities that had been on its roadmap in my last look. Wimi now supports native screen sharing and WebRTC-based video chat. Available in all the paid plans, the app supports up to four participants per call (to be expanded to 20 later), and users can make up to 200 calls per month. However, video chat is still technically in beta... so subscribers can use it, but Wimi is still tinkering with the functionality.

    Other enhancements over the past few months include:

    • Wimi Drive, which makes documents stored on Wimi available even when you're offline
    • A connector that syncs Wimi's calendar with Outlook
    • An Agile task management tool
    • A private cloud option that runs the Wimi software on site, providing added privacy for large enterprises, financial services firms, and Germans

  • OpenTouch TeamShare
    Refresher: In my previous slideshow, I mentioned Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise's OpenTouch TeamShare only in passing because it wasn't generally available at the time. With GA slated for the end of this month, it's a good time to take a closer look at it.

    Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise has taken a rather novel approach to team collaboration apps. Rather than developing its own like Unify did with Circuit or acquiring one like Cisco did with Spark, the company is instead white-labeling Wimi. That is, Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise has licensed the Wimi app, installed it on servers in its data centers, and is delivering its own service based on it. For now, OpenTouch TeamShare and Wimi have much in common. Run through the list of features included in Wimi's Enterprise plan and you've got a good idea of what OpenTouch TeamShare provides in terms of messaging, collaboration, and communications. (TeamShare's iTune and Google Play entries also give a nice rundown of features.)

    In terms of positioning, TeamShare is part of Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise's OpenTouch Personal Cloud suite. But the company has tweaked the Wimi app so customers and resellers can easily order, manage, and provision it alongside other Personal Cloud apps. For end users this means SSO for OpenTouch TeamShare, OpenTouch Conference, and whatever apps are added next. For IT admins it means a consistent management framework across Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise's team collaboration and audio conferencing SaaS offerings. For resellers it means a single online store, operated by Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise, for apps purchasing.

    Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise plans to integrate TeamShare more closely with its communications solutions and services. Today, the app's real-time comms functionality -- specifically WebRTC-based video chat for up to four participants -- is driven by the Wimi software. However, this will expand so TeamShare users can launch audio conferences (based on OpenTouch Conference), make and receive PSTN calls (via integration with Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise telephony systems), and have more advanced instant messaging (though integration with ALU-E's UC platform).

    Finally, rather than adopting Wimi's freemium model or providing multiple paid plans with varying capabilities, Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise is instead going to market with a single paid plan that includes everything. This speaks to TeamShare's target market. The company will be selling it to IT departments prepared to pay for a proper enterprise app... not to a handful of users who use the app for free and who may or may not ever become paying customers.

  • PureCloud Collaborate
    Interactive Intelligence is another enterprise comms vendor that's found team collaboration apps utterly irresistible. I blogged about PureCloud Collaborate when it was launched earlier this year, so read all about it this No Jitter post. In a nutshell, Interactive Intelligence bought a startup called OrgSpan, discontinued its various products, and used the underlying technology and development team to develop a new team collaboration app.

    What makes PureCloud Collaborate stand out is its ability to start off as a team collaboration app and, if the company subscribing to it wants, layer on a hosted PBX service and hosted contact center service. So what you get are three cloud-based comms services provided by the same vendor, based on the same underlying technology, and ordered and provisioned in the same way. This could be compelling for companies looking for the entire comms-collab-customer service package in an easy to implement form.

    I wasn't seeing a list of third-party application integrations done on the PureCloud Collaborate website, so I asked Interactive Intelligence about it. The company says integrations with Bitbucket, Github, Jenkins, JIRA, PagerDuty, SalesForce, Trello, and UserVoice are currently available, with Box and ZenDesk on the roadmap.

  • LiveMinutes
    LiveMinutes launched in 2011 as a free Web conferencing service focused on document collaboration, and has evolved into a shared workspace paradigm. From the start it included group chat and document sharing, with the ability for simultaneous editing by multiple users. It has always included native audio conferencing and up to nine-way WebRTC-based video chat, both of which have been powered by Twilio.

    A user can anchor meeting chat logs to a specific part of a document. This lets users not just review previous chat logs, but see exactly where in the document the chat refers. LiveMinutes added integration with Evernote and a $5/user/month paid plan in 2013, which 2014 saw a 2.0 software revision, an iPhone app, and Google Docs integration. And in 2015, LiveMinutes was acquired by Fuze.

    The app is now in the process of getting fully integrated into the Fuze video service as a separate offering called Fuze Spaces. Currently available as a private beta, Spaces delivers much the same document collaboration and shared workspace experience as LiveMinutes, with voice and video conferencing powered by Fuze. For now starting a video session from within Spaces launches a separate Fuze video app. But LiveMinutes co-founder Kemal El Moujahid says this will change when Spaces becomes GA as the Fuze-powered communications session will be completely native within the same application. Other features in development include instant messaging, searchable audio recordings, and more integrations with third-party apps.

    Interestingly, the Fuze video conferencing service is inheriting certain LiveMinutes features. For example, Fuze now has a native document editor for shared notes based on LiveMinutes. Soon Fuze users will be able to access shared content even when a video conference is not in progress.

    For now, LiveMinutes and Fuze Spaces are separate services. But when Spaces becomes generally available, it will replace LiveMinutes as the company's sole team collaboration app, with Live Minutes transitioned to Spaces.

  • Redbooth
    Redbooth started in 2008 as a developer of a project management app called Teambox. But enterprises, sizable financial service firms, and universities -- not just small teams -- began using its app. And more and more the word "box" became associated with companies and services providing online document storage. So the name had to change.

    Another change was the tight focus on project management. In 2014 Redbooth revamped the app around a "virtual workspace" metaphor that centralizes collaboration, communications, and document storage, while at the same time retaining the advanced task management functionality that was Teambox's forte. At about the same time the company tightly integrated group and one-to-one messaging with presence indication into the task management functionality. Click to video launches a Zoom video conference, while click to call initiates a callback service that rings my phone and the phones of people I'm trying to call, then conferences us all together.

    This summer Redbooth issued a 2.0 software revision that includes the voice and video comms functionality noted earlier, a redesigned UI that makes chat easier to access, and OneDrive and SharePoint integration (for enterprise customers, particularly those using Office 365).

    Redbooth has about 70 employees -- 40 or so are in Spain and the rest in California (despite the U.K. connotation of the company name). Angel investors include executives from Cisco, Facebook, Rackspace, and Zoom. CEO Dan Schoenbaum says about 150 universities are using Redbooth, with the University of Indiana having thousands of users. In total, Redbooth has about 4,000 paying customers.

    Unlike many other online team collaboration app providers, Redbooth does not have a freemium model. That is, it offered a free plan until last year, but discontinued that so that the company's support and development teams could focus more on paying customers.

    Also unlike similar apps, each Redbooth plan comes with specific integrations. The $5 plan comes with Dropbox, Evernote, and Google Drive pre-integrated, while the $15 plan has Outlook, Zendesk, SharePoint, and others. This could raise its appeal among users looking for a collaboration app but disinterested in customizing it themselves.

    Finally, Redbooth provides enterprises with a version of the app that they can deploy in their data centers and manage privately. While this is not unique among team collaboration app developers, it's something that is only a roadmap item at a number of them and as such is something that helps Redbooth stand out.

  • Moxtra
    Moxtra is taking a rather different approach to team collaboration. Subrah Iyar, who co-founded WebEx back in the day, and Stanley Huang, a leading WebEx engineer both before and after Cisco acquired it, launched the startup.

    At first glance Moxtra seems much like other team collaboration startups: It's a couple years old (Moxtra launched its app in 2013), employs a freemium model, and offers shared workspaces (Moxtra has opted for a binder metaphor) that combine messaging, document collaboration, native voice à la Twilio, and a growing list of integrations. It added native video chat, based on homegrown technology rather than WebRTC or a third-party service, in May. And of course, there's some unique stuff that helps it stand out, like interesting document annotation capabilities and a voice recording feature called Clip.

    Moxtra says its app has had two million downloads since it launched, with more than 35% of those who downloaded the app being active users. The company didn't say how many subscribers are on its paid plan; however, paid subscriptions sold to small teams is not Moxtra's MO. The company is more interested in either selling its app for other companies to white-label or partnering with ISVs and mobile app developers to embed the Moxtra cloud collaboration services into their software apps via APIs and SDKs. As regards the former, vendors entering into white-label agreements are looking to offer a comprehensive collaboration solution, but want their own -- not Moxtra's -- brand in front of customers. Among these is Totvs, a Brazilian developer of ERP software that is white-labeling the Moxtra app and will use it as the messaging and collaboration component of its Fluig suite of productivity apps.

    Alternately, developers can license one or more components of the multilayered Moxtra platform, integrating it into their apps to create a unique team collaboration solution designed specifically for their target customers. For example, Avagmah, an India-based developer of online education software, has embedded the messaging and task management components of the Moxtra platform into its cloud-based learning management system.

    Going forward the company expects the bulk of its business to derive from software partners integrating Moxtra into their apps rather than from subscriptions to its own team collaboration app.

  • Bitrix
    Refresher: In my previous slideshow, I described Bitrix as perhaps the most well-rounded and feature-rich of the team collaboration apps, and the one that acts most like a telephony service.

    Pricing and plans are the same as last year, but Bixtra has added a number of new app integrations -- Android Widget, Basecamp, Xero, Mailgen Mailer, and a business card scanner among them. And in April the company released a new version of the software. What's new includes:

  • Sqwiggle
    Refresher: In my previous slideshow, I described Sqwiggle as a team collaboration app with always-on video chat that kept remote teams in constant contact with each other and differentiated its service from competitors.

    You can still sign up for Sqwiggle. You can still pay $9 per user for a Plus plan or $25 for an Enterprise one. But don't expect any of the "coming soon" features to come soon... or at all. I'm assuming Sqwiggle will be decommissioned soon after the team collaboration app set to replace it is ready for prime time.

    "[W]e found that everyone liked the *concept* of visual connection a lot - but getting people to use it day-to-day was another matter altogether," co-founder Tom Moor explained in an online chat. "It turns out people that work remotely take their ability to not wear pants quite seriously!"

    So the Sqwiggle team circled its wagons, developing a new technical architecture for team collaboration that incorporates certain elements of Sqwiggle. The result: Speak. Speaking on Speak Moor said, also in the online chat, "We have true (very granular) presence without the video camera being on and instant audio communication that falls back to a call when you step away from the computer or choose it because you're busy."

    You can read more about it here. Speak is currently in beta, with GA and pricing not yet announced.

    Follow Brian Riggs on Twitter and Google+!
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Here's a status report on 14 team collaboration apps.