The Office 2.0 conference
) opens up in San Francisco tomorrow. As it did last year, this show will push the Web 2.0 concept for business as far as it can go
. I expect that a lot of activity at the conference will center around groupware and work-flow applicatiosn. In the past few days I've talked to the founders of four companies competing in this space--
, and ShareMethods
-- each of which is aiming to use Web 2.0 concepts like simple design, hosted services, and a-la-carte pricing, to knock Microsoft's Sharepoint
off its peg, and take on Web 2.0 work-flow stalwart 37Signals' Basecamp
as well. Not to mention blocking upstarts from big companies, like Webex's WebOffice
, before they can get major traction.
It's going to be a tough battle for these products to stand out from each other. The founders I talked to have similar pitches. They talk about low-cost, bottom-up (as opposed to IT-driven) sales, and the fact that they're not trying to replace office products like Microsoft Office or even Web 2.0 suites like Zoho, but rather trying to bring collaboration and workflow to every business with a Web connection.
The one area where these products all need to develop the most is in their integration with these online office productivity tools. At the moment, all of these applications will help you check in and manage files that you create on your PC, and they'll handle approval cycles, discussions, and project plans. But these applications really need tight integration with tools like Google Docs to truly free users from the shackles of local software. That's not just a philosophical perspective--working half online (for work flow) and half on a PC (for productivity applications) is confusing and will slow adoption of these products.
That said, I like all these services. They fill a need that e-mail and wikis can't, and that traditional software is too heavy for. Most of the products look great and aren't over-featured, making it fairly easy for users to get up to speed on them.
The differences between these applications are not immediately obvious...
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