February 14, 2005
PALO ALTO, Calif. - This scenario is all too familiar to office workers who collaborate electronically on projects: E-mails get passed around with differing versions of documents-in-progress attached.
Instant messages whizz by. Web sites are cited, then lost. It's often a jumbled mess, with no central online location for shared data. There must be a better way.
A new crop of tools aims to help turn the Web - be it on the public Internet or a company network - into much more than a collection of documents one visits like a museum: Look, but don't touch.
The idea is to make it easy to quickly post and remove stuff from digital bulletin boards where the online communities of the future will gather to catch up and trade ideas, images and work.
"We're turning the Web into a conversation," said Glenn Reid, chief executive and founder of Five Across Inc.
Reid's startup and several other companies will offer their visions for accomplishing that on stage at the DEMO conference in Arizona, an annual showcase of tech innovation.
All are trying to address in one way or another an emerging trend of making the Web less disjointed and more democratized - a richer, more organized forum for gathering and sharing information.
These companies, and many others, are all part of a growing industry specializing in what Forrester Research analyst Charlene Li calls "social media."
JotSpot Inc., a Palo Alto-based startup, is betting on Wikis, a type of Web page that can be edited by anyone.
Wikis could become a staging area of sorts for information, and JotSpot's new Web service targets businesses that want to give authorized users a common location in which to collaborate.
Co-workers can take a spreadsheet, build upon it, customize it, integrate data from the Web or e-mails and have all the information reside in one place on a Wiki Web site. Revisions are tracked and archived so nothing is ever lost.
Behind JotSpot is Joe Kraus, a serial entrepreneur who co-founded the early search engine Excite.
Kraus became a believer in Wikis after he and fellow co-founder Graham Spencer got fed up with exchanging hundreds of e-mails and attachments and tried using a Wiki instead while working on a business plan. That ultimately led to JotSpot's birth in October, competing against Socialtext and a handful of others in the fledgling market.
"We're in this transition of making it ever easier to publish (on the Web) and integrate previously siloed information and personalizing it," said Kraus, who is also JotSpot's chief executive.
Others, like Five Across and iUpload, aim to use the power of another form of Web publishing, online journals commonly known as blogs, to help businesses or individuals streamline their teamwork or communication.
Easy to use and update, blogs have gained traction in the past few years and are used by everyone from political pundits to pre-adolescents.
More than 8 million Internet users have created blogs, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, and a growing number of businesses are experimenting with blogs as tools for internal and external communication.
At DEMO, Palo Alto-based Five Across is introducing speedy technology that lets bloggers instantaneously update their blog pages with text, photos, audio or video clips, even spreadsheets and presentations, using easy drag-and-drop motions.
Called Bubbler, the tool allows members of a group to make a single blog more of a community than one person's mouthpiece.
Say someone has built a Web site for their child's soccer team. Setting up a community-style blog could help make the task easier, Reid said. A single person wouldn't be burdened with all the work.
The Bubbler blogging platform could also tap Five Across' existing software for instant messaging and file-sharing.
Ontario, Canada-based iUpload's new blogging product lets individuals communicate with other Web sites straight from their blogs. Users can pull their blog content - whether it's a book review or a submission to a photo contest - and send it to iUpload's online partners, which so far include auction giant eBay Inc., Web portal Yahoo Inc. and social networking site Tribe.
"You could live in your blog, author content and choose where the content will appear - all without traipsing all over the Internet," said iUpload's chief executive Robin Hopper.
Another startup, Pluck Corp., will launch at DEMO a Web browser companion that's designed to be a one-stop personal information manager for search, blogs and data feeds known as "Really Simple Syndication," or RSS - a system that grabs fresh information from designated sites and distributes summaries and links to the user.
A number of companies offer people the ability to compile RSS feeds on a single page, but Pluck also lets users share with friends and colleagues the feeds, Web site addresses and other information they find valuable. Pluck users can also direct the software to regularly scour the Web for items of interest.
The point is to save e-mail traffic and time.
The participants at this year's DEMO event, however, aren't the only ones that see the potential of turning what has traditionally been a read-only Web into what JotSpot's Kraus calls "a write-able Web."
Tech giants such as Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo already have made investments in consumer-oriented blogging technologies and have started to integrate them into their Web portal services.
"There are big players setting the pace with their large base of customers, but a lot will be driven by the innovation of some of these smaller companies," analyst Li said. "It's like a genie now. You can't put it back in the bottle."