Group Chat and Collaborative Work: The Future of Online Job Interactions

collaboration_group_chatThe Internet has made many things possible across the world. People from the opposite hemispheres can chat in real time consistently and constantly. However, the real revolution is how the Internet makes it easier for people to work together. Companies can hire global freelancers and even set up whole businesses based online. Of course, a company can still live with using different silo tools to handle their collaboration, such as using Skype for text and voice chat, join.me for screen sharing, gotomymeeting.com for full-blown team meetings,  Asana for project and task management, Google docs for document sharing. The list goes on. The more technologies a company employs, the more pressing it has become to maintain, search and collaborate on the dispersed information in an effective way. A new breed of application has emerged to take on such challenges presented by trend of dispersed work locations, variety of devices and wide range of SaaS tools used. These products almost all started with the cornerstone capability, Group Chat. But as things evolve, there have become much more advanced than group chat and now encompass a spectrum of functionality ranging from video conference to interconnectedness of all relevant apps. The grand vision is to provide everything you need to get your work done. For businesses that need to bring their collaboration to a whole new level, here are some of the best such collaboration suites.

Slack

Slack’s got a lot going for it, but not because it has tons of features. The program itself is minimalistic; the developers implemented a few key tools that make group chat and online collaboration easier. First off, the chat system is equipped with all the tools you need to lessen interactions through email. You can attach files of any size when sending a private message. Each piece of media is saved within a separate space. You can also control the accessibility of the messages and files in order to make things a bit more private. Conference calls are also a breeze; Slack is more stable ensuring a consistent connection all throughout the call. Another particular treat is the active support because the feedback system allows you to talk to live agents. Pricing is currently unavailable, but you and your team can test the program in a sort of beta state. The only issue with the program is that it lacks task and to do lists. Slack offers three packages; Enterprise costs $99, Plus is around $19, while the standard package is cheapest at $9.

Key Features:
– Cross Platform Support ranging from Mac, iOS, Android and is available on the Web as well
– The messengers include one on one messaging, private groups, private and public chat rooms, direct messages, and all the rooms are saved and categorized within the app.
– Slack also allows the use of Google Docs, Dropbox, Heroku, Crashlytics, GitHub, Zendesk

What it lacks:
– Video conferencing and calls. It also lacks screen sharing features.

sqWiggle

This program’s a bit more unique in that it has a few limitations but they work toward making call interactions easier. For example; when you get online with your team, active streams of each user are limited in that not everything video stream is active. The program takes a screen shot of each participant, and only activates video and audio when someone’s talking. The disadvantage to this program is that it doesn’t run as a standalone program; in order to access it, you’ll have to use a browser which can support HTML 5. Sqwiggle also implements a deeper and fully fleshed privacy mode which creates an outline of you image rather than showing your face. Another unique feature is the ability to add up to 12 participants in each conversation. Pricing only costs $9 per user, but you will have to check in with the site if you wish to use participate in an enterprise package.

Key Features:
– File sharing without the use of a 3rd party program
– Active 24 hour connection allows you and your team to keep in contact constantly
– Video conferencing is also easy; simply click on the person and you’re already chatting
– Sqwiggle doesn’t use that much bandwidth, allowing you to run other net based programs.
– Group video and chat capable, however, video is limited to only 4 people with plans to include ten

What it lacks:
– No screen sharing feature and it only works on the web. It also may only run on the latest versions of Chrome.

GetFlow

GetFlow lacks something major when it comes to enterprise based chat programs. The program doesn’t support video or audio conversations, and instead chooses to focus on text based interactions. That’s a major setback when it comes down to the wire, but thankfully, GetFlow does allow for many other features like a follow chat button. Basically, when you have to leave the program alone for a while, that button allows you to archive chat conversations between other team mates. GetFlow also focuses heavily on tasks and scheduling. When you’re busy working on a project, the program will keep constant track of any updates, and you can even send feedback to each of your teammates as they progress through the job. The company behind GetFlow offers several different packages; the cheapest being basic which costs $9 a month, while as the enterprise will need customization and negotiations when it comes to creating a plan.

Key Features:
– Active Dashboard which allows you to get up to date information almost instantly
– Micromanaging task capability and even auto-reassignment of tasks
– Team lists which also allows you to add guest members
– Structured work schedules with a dedicated work space
– Real time collaboration

What it lacks:
No video or audio messages, screen sharing, and totally focused on text based messaging.

HipChat

Okay, for small teams, Hipchat is awesome. It’s text based, has task oriented features, and is very cheap. However, once you download and subscribe to the program, you’ll find that it lacks a lot of the feature the other three entries on this list offer. the program is asynchronous when it comes to live interactions, which means everyone gets everything at the right time. The drag and drop feature also helps you share files on the fly and chat conversations are archived for an indefinite amount of time. What may turn you off from the program is that It’s best used when working with small groups. Usually, the chat function works best with a participant range of 5 at max. If you’re interested, then you can check the month long free trial, but subscriptions cost $1 for every users each month.

Key Features:
– File sharing
– Group Chat attached to private chat rooms
– Push notifications allow you to stay in the loop while on the move
– As of this year, the program is totally free
– Cross Platform Support
– Quick Screen share capabilities
– There is no limit to the number of chat rooms

What it lacks:
– The program lacks conference calling, along with any kind of call,
– As the Hipchat site says, no Time Travelling capability

Kato

In terms of free software, Kato.im is an impressive program. It’s a real time messenger, aiming cut down email conversations with the use of an efficient chat program. A particular feature allows you to cut down on the noise by delegating chat and task updates to individual windows. On top, administrative controls also feature heavy restrictions and add a dimension of real control. It’s also totally free, which makes the program even more tempting to download. The difference here, is that there is also a premium package which allows for more control over files and messaging.

Key Features:
– Multiple Window control
– Dozens of chat windows and team members can be registered
– Real time chat services allow users to keep on the pulse of the company
– File sharing is easily done
– Silencing irrelevant noise is as simple as clicking away from conversations

What it Lacks:
– Like most free programs, it lacks screen sharing
– File sharing can be clunky
– The user interface is clunky and hard to navigate
– Numerous Windows make the previous issue even harder to deal with

Hall

Hipchat is basic on many levels, but for some reason, Hall manages to clear that up even more. The best part about the program is that it’s very easy to sign in. If you have a Facebook account, then the process is as simple as getting online and using your credentials. You can add many other people at any one time, and the programs integrated social network invite system makes the process easier. The problem here is that it makes the process much more casual, and while chat and to-do lists exist on the program, they aren’t as extensive as the first three entries on this list. At the same time, file sharing is pretty lackluster, which means you might have to resort to cloud storage programs like Dropbox. The plus side is that the program is free, which makes it perfect for small scale projects.

Key Features:
– File sharing covers several different forms of multimedia all in one place
– Conversations can happen across several platforms and operating systems in real time which means you’ll be up to date on all tasks.
– Heavy emphasis on organization allowing people to keep on point
– Persistent chat allows you to keep in touch at all times.

What it lacks:
– The interface is a little clunky and there’s less emphasis on collaboration. There aren’t many task based features.

Campfire

Web based chat can be great in many ways, but Campfire fails in a lot of respects. This program helps massive amounts of people get online immediately, but when you saturate a collaborative chat with so many voice you lose a thing or two. For small business, Campfire may not be the best choice. You can’t back track old conversations without having to look through an HTML file and file sharing can be a task. inviting chat participants can also be a hassle; individual users have to be sent a link every time they wish to join up. Luckily, Campfire is free so collaborative efforts can be easy as pie.

Key Features:
– Web and mobile based program
– Chat focus which allows you to access YouTube on the go
– A number of doc types are viewable from the program itself
– Free

What it lacks:
– Video, audio, and task managers are all absent from start up. The program lacks flair and can be dated because of its clunky interface.

Other notable mentions: Jandi (a product from a Korean start-up that intends to take on Slack).

Whatever you need for your business, these applications are sure to impress. Free programs are always welcome when it comes to start ups, but if you need something that runs on a more enterprise scale, then you should look into the first three entries on this list. You should also check out each of these suites because they do have test periods where you can get a feel of the program. We believe that these tools will change the way companies do their work. While most of them are still in the early stage, they already show a lot of promises and will sure to make inroads into the main stream. If you have the willingness to be an early adopter, you might be able to reap the benefits of improved efficiency and outrun your competitors.

Image from Mohsin Khalid

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