Friday, 10 August 2012

Not Socialising - Just Working

Somehow, I've got involved with a community based project where a number of local groups have come together to provide training events for local people. Having worked together for a while and meeting in-person every few months, they have found it difficult to keep all groups informed of what all other groups are doing.

Chatting with the people tasked to improve this situation, the main items of a wish list are:
  • a space for group members only
  • a place for meeting agendas, minutes and notes
  • a list of contacts
  • an events calendar
  • a forum for activity updates
My first thought was for Google Education; the tools, permissions and sharing possibilities seemed tailor made to solve the collaboration problems. Unfortunately a number of the groups are part of the local authority who's IT system prevents access to anything Google (other than search I presume). However, I also had second thoughts about the suitability of Google Apps for this group. I need to think this through more but I felt a more straightforward physical web space and simple tools than provided by Google would suit this group better.

An initial web search brought back a host of social networking type sites:
These sites tended to offer a range of facilities that weren't on the groups wish list and would tend to cloud the fairly basic job the group needed to accomplish.

It took a little time to find the search terms that would bring back the sort of straightforward web space with basic functionality that I wanted ('online group workspaces' seemed to provide the most appropriate results). An initial sifting left a number of potential sites:
NB: Yammer and Podio were not included in this list as they had a few too many social features and all users need to have the same email domain (ie work in the same organisation) which is not true of this group. There was also the ultra minimal option to just have a shared calendar eg which is perhaps a little too minimal.

The group are now looking at 2 sites to choose their favourite.
I like the look of this interface; it has a simple horizontal tab menu focusing on the 3 main functions of Activity Feed, Document Folder and Calendar with a vertical menus providing a members list on the left and collaboration and communication tools on the right.

The website says that Wiggio is the easiest (free) way to work in groups with an online toolkit to support group work. Perfect for private groups:
  • host virtual meetings and conference calls
  • create to-do lists and assign tasks
  • send email, text and voice messages
  • manage events with a shared calendar
  • poll your group in real time
  • upload and manage files in a shared folder.
There is a good knowledge base containing 'how to' information. There is a premium service which allows custom branding etc. The site does have a few 'flaky’ moments now and again where things work one minute but not the next (this could be explained by the web session expiring without giving the user an alert to login again).
This site looks fairly straightforward and focuses on the same Share, Collaborate, & Communicate functionality although I feel the interface is a little more crowded and 'busy' than Wiggio.

The website says this site promotes Online Collaboration allowing you to organize your day to day work, projects, information, people and files securely. A web-based online collaboration tool and project management software that enables you to:
  • Share Files
    Getting lost with too many emails? Share files and content in secure online workspaces with people inside and outside your organization.
  • Online Collaboration
    Manage projects, and easily organize your day to day work. Keep on top of your task’s and get visibility on all your stuff.
  • Communicate
    Connect with people and communicate better, saving time by letting you get work done (the important things) more quickly and efficiently.

There is a pricing plan but the free account gives unlimited users, 2 workspaces, 1Gb storage and a variety of features (details at However, on the free account, HTTPS is available on Sign in only and the online document editor is no longer available.

The other 2 sites in brief:
    This site gives a mix of collaboration and social tools. Whether this is a good mix or just a confusion of the 2 is open to debate. The website gives a flavour of the site:
    "Build forms and workflows, automate business processes, and drive social engagement with your customers & employees using WizeHive's web based platform On your own website or through your facebook fan page!"
    Zoho projects provide a number of tools for online workgroups but here the focus is very much on Project Management and doesn't really fit the needs of the group I'm working with.

Finally, there is
The site provides tools for managing a membership group rather than a work group. Although not quite right at the moment, if the group wants to engage the public by developing a programme of events for a members group, this could well provide their next step.

I'm sure that the 'Social Web' phenomenon has widened participation of people with the digital world and probably improved their digital skills hugely. Occassionaly though, all people need are straightforward work tools. We aren't all being social all of the time. Occasionaly most of us just have to do a bit of work, sometimes in a team.

TGIF - Time to be social.