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Speedshare Turns Web Into a Shared Experience

A couple of weeks ago one of my daughters asked me for help filling out some paperwork for school. I was glad to help, but it was a pain.

She e-mailed me a URL, which took me to a PDF of instructions. With those instructions came links to other documentation, including the form for which she wanted my guidance. I had to download that form -- also a PDF -- and print it out. Then we got on the phone, reviewed the form, and discussed what to input in the portions she found confusing or needed information from me. She then input everything on her end, and e-mailed me a copy so I could double-check her entries.

The information she needed to provide was fairly straightforward, but she needed to be sure all of her entries were correct so the application wouldn't be delayed in processing. A delay would jeopardize the plans for which she needed to submit the application in the first place.

I'm guessing this sort of scenario is familiar to many No Jitter readers -- if not particular to filling out a time-sensitive form then in the general scope of doing business in a Web-fronted world. How many times have you wished you could be sitting in a user's seat, one with him or her -- figuratively speaking, of course? Maybe you'd use such a capability to share a Web page with a purchasing manager who can't figure out how to navigate your online order system; jump into your Web-based parts catalog to show a client where to find what they're looking for; or head to your e-tail outlet to help out a shopper who's having trouble with her shopping cart.

I'm not talking about screen sharing, as you might already do via a service like GoToMeeting or WebEx or through your Lync client. Rather, this is about the ability for two or more people to view and interact on a Web site or with an application simultaneously. OSIX, the company that produced the online meeting tool, has developed just such a capability, a cloud-based "Websharing" service it calls Speedshare.

Speedshare essentially does for any cloud application what Google has done through Docs in interpreting Microsoft's Word, Excel, and PowerPoint software, Cole says. "We can let people come in to [Adobe] Illustrator and share, or go to DocuSign and not only sign but review agreements together, or use NetSuite or Salesforce together." Behind the scenes, when users come to Speedshare, they're taken to a Speedshare application server stack sitting in the Amazon cloud and running a Chromium-based open-source Speedshare browser interface.


OSIX publicly launched Speedshare earlier this week, but has been running a private launch since July, OSIX CEO Cary Cole tells me. While anybody can sign up for Speedshare, including moms who need to help their daughters fill out forms for school, OSIX's primary focus to date has been on the enterprise, particularly companies with large sales organizations. Some 40,000 sales reps at eight enterprises are up online already with Speedshare, he says. "The idea is providing really, really simple tools for them to share and close sales online."

When users -- individuals or businesses -- sign up for Speedshare they get their own channel to use and share. They can then invite people to join them on whatever they're working on or perusing. Browser type doesn't matter, as long as the version is relatively current, and no special downloads are required, Cole says. The host provides mouse and keyboard control to guests as appropriate.

Had I had access to Speedshare a couple of weeks ago, perhaps what I would have done was launch a PDF viewer within Speedshare and invited my daughter to join me there. As the session's host, I'd give her rights to interact with the document and we could have filled out the form together and then she could have submitted it from there.

OSIX believes this sort of universal Websharing is the key enabler for the real-time Web. "Today people don't think about the Web as a shared experience but as a solitary experience. We're trying to say that anything now can be a shared experience.

"Why, years from now, would everything not be sharable on the Web? Why does that experience have to be by myself? People should be able to do business together... and have fun together," Cole says.

Good questions, all -- and they make you wonder why real-time Websharing of this sort hasn't been incorporated into the next-generation collaboration solutions we're seeing coming out of the big enterprise players of late. Perhaps it's because creating such simplicity and a friction-free user experience isn't easy, as Cole says. OSIX came up with idea for Speedshare three years ago, and has been working hard on its development ever since.

Ensuring universal access means being able to support a variety of tools, including browsers that support HTML5, Flash, and WebRTC -- or a combination thereof. And guaranteeing simultaneous interactivity means a lot of difficult algorithmic work on optimization and compression. For example, OSIX had to address tough questions like, "How do I make this shared Web really fast -- and what if somebody is in India? Do I show a page all at once or in multiple layers?," Cole says.

The effort seems to have paid off, at least from the perspective of one early user I spoke to about Speedshare. Sara McGrath, an independent consultant with Jamberry Nails, a fashion nail design e-tailer and virtual event company, says Speedshare has proven invaluable as a training, communications, and presentation tool. It's been particularly great at creating a better guest experience at Jamberry parties, she adds.

"It just gives you that extra 'Oh my gosh!' and engagement, so you can add more emotion and excitement to the experience," McGrath says.

As I mentioned, Speedshare is available in public beta launch as of earlier this week. You can ask for an invite here, and Cole says OSIX will bring on users in batches of 10,000 over the first few weeks. To date, it's tested the platform with 2,000 concurrent users and is "really solid on that," he adds.

Speedshare is available in free and premium versions for individuals and small and mid-sized businesses, as well as in an enterprise version. All plans include unlimited Speedshare sessions, video streaming, and chat capabilities. You're on your own for audio.

Personally, I'm ready to start playing around with Speedshare. Anybody want to join me? My invite has been accepted and so I've got my channel.

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