Introducing Approver.com

I’m usually all about the sharing, but I have to admit I’ve been a little cagey over the blog in the past month or so. After leaving Yahoo! I mentioned I was starting a consultancy to help businesses capitalize on the knowledge and experience I’ve built up over the years doing platform products and developer relations. And then there was this other thing (which I linked to a few weeks back but didn’t actually talk about here). Today it’s time to talk about the other thing.

How many times have you sent an email attachment to a group of people with the intention of getting feedback on it? When I was working in big Internet companies as well as running my own business, this happened a lot and it drove me crazy every time — to the point where I’d have call a meeting (ugh) or print out a document just to get people to review a 10-slide powerpoint deck or a two-page press release.

The experience of collaborating by sending around email attachments is just execrable:

  • You have no way to know if the attachment ever got there
  • Lots of corporate email systems don’t let you send attachments, or they limit the size of the file you can send
  • People often forget to attach the file in the first place
  • If you send the file to a bunch of people, soon your inbox is polluted with dozens of "me too!" responses
  • You often don’t know definitively whether the important person who needs to approve the document has actually done so
  • It’s really difficult to locate the document along with all of its comments six months in the future
  • Sending confidential documents in email is awful from a security perspective

Corporate content management and workflow systems were set up to deal with these problems, but they tend to be:

  • Expensive
  • Difficult to set up, customize and maintain
  • Not easy to extend outside of your domain (so if you want your boss, your attorney and your outside PR firm to review a document, you’re basically out of luck; enjoy your 2-hour conference call)

Approver.com was created to solve this problem. The idea is to provide something that’s more or less as easy to use as email attachments and let people publish documents online instead of mailing them around. Importantly, you don’t have to change the editor you work with if you don’t want (Approver.com works with uploaded files as well as documents you create in the browser).

Only the people you invite to review a document can view it (one early tester described Approver as "Evite for documents" which I think really nails it). You can see clearly when a reviewer has viewed a document, you get an email alert when they’ve approved or posted a comment on a document, and everyone you’ve invited to work on a document is added to your network of contacts to make it easier to invite those folks the next time you have a document you want to circulate for review.

Approver.com is free to try. If all you ever do is approve documents, that’s free too (so you don’t have to worry about us dinging your boss just because you want to use Approver to send him documents). There’s a paid account for heavy hitters who want to create lots of documents, but it’s pretty cheap compared to other services like this, and you don’t have to pay unless you want to create a bunch of documents.

You can try out Approver.com now by registering here (it’s free!). After you’ve registered, I’ll send you a document to approve so you get the full effect. Once you’ve gotten the hang of it, feel free to invite friends and co-workers to review documents — the site is open for business, so go for it and if you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave feedback. (Comments here are just fine too.)