The open source ECM tool Informa chose is Alfresco Enterprise Network, developed by Alfresco. Launched in the fall of 2005, the software is not quite yet a year old. In its short life, the ECM tool has been adopted by companies like Boise Cascade and Knight Ridder Digital. The application is designed to run in the Linux, Mac, Unix or Windows environments.
One of Informa’s goals in adopting Alfresco was to allows employees to use the editor of their choice to participate in any stage of a document’s creation, from authoring to reviewing, approval to distribution. The company wanted support for EXL-FO (Extensible Stylesheet Language Formatting Objects) and Web services standards. It wanted its content management system to be open source so that it could incorporate third party tools without being limited to a proprietary software model.
Alfresco enables a network manager to apply an array of content management rules to virtual folders. For instance, "You say, ‘anything that goes into this folder, do this with it,’" Hecht explains. So any file can be automatically translated into the correct file format, locked, or versioned.
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:
- 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.)
Will small businesses and mid-size companies begin to question the wisdom of paying a full-time email maintenance staff to keep their email lifeline flowing, when they can avail themselves of "free" (easy-to-use email, calendaring, Web page creation, and hosting, etc.) from Google? You bet!
Will large companies move their employees off of Microsoft Exchange or Lotus Notes to Google Apps and Gmail? Probably not.
But will large companies allow employees to use Gmail as a back-up email alternative for situations in which their corporate email is compromised by virus attacks or inaccessible? Absolutely!
Maybe true, but there is a third way between "big companies won’t migrate off exchange" and "small companies will use this as a cheap alternative to enterprise software." It’s "individual professionals will adopt cheap or free tools to realize productivity gains, and to heck with what the IT guys say the corporate standard is."
I was working at a company a while back that tried to migrate everybody off AIM and onto a secure IM client. That initiative went nowhere; individual users were so far ahead of the corporate IT team that it was easier for them to just install the free AIM client and use that. When a few key adopters installed AIM and used it, more people installed it because their co-workers were using it, and it was only a matter of time before AIM became an unassailable folk standard within the company.
I’ll be speaking on a panel at the upcoming Office 2.0 Conference in San Francisco October 12-13.
"Office 2.0" refers to Web 2.0 productivity applications — stuff to help you save time online, get stuff accomplished, and share your work with others. Many of these apps (too many, I’d argue) involve creating not-quite-good-enough versions of conventional client applications like editors and database applications in the browser, but a lot of them are starting to take advantage of the unique properties of the web to facilitate things that aren’t easily accomplished using client software.
We’re on the cusp of something very interesting with Web-based productivity applications. The next year or two is going to be revolutionary as people begin to utilize the Web to achieve things that simply aren’t possible using existing client productivity suites. The key, I think, is to refrain from re-inventing Word for Windows 2.0 in the browser and focus on the things that make the web a unique medium: always on, accessible from any browser and any device, powered by people with user preferences at the center of everything, and so forth.
I was in the audience at an Under the Radar session on Office 2.0 applications last night. It was an interesting preview of what we’ll see at the conference in October. All four demos were quite impressive; Zoho deservedly took the audience choice prize. The depth of what those guys are doing is nothing short of amazing.
As I mentioned on the blog last week, I’m currently working on a web-based tool that attacks a small facet of document-sharing that has bugged the crap out of me for years. The site is almost ready for public consumption, but if you’d like an advance peek, let me know and I’ll hook you up.
Back when I worked at eBay I used to keep a poster up in my cubicle. It was an ad for reruns of Futurama, and the tag line read:
I put the ad up in my cubicle because I love Futurama, but after a while I realized that “see the future again and again” is a pretty good metaphor for what I’m all about. I love new paradigms; I need to be constantly learning and working to bring about the next new thing. For me, this means creating technology products that people love to use and that save them time and money. I’ve never been a big believer in the traditional notion of job security, and there is a strong entrepreneurial streak that goes back for several generations in my family. As many of you know, I ran a one-person consulting business for about five years and turned that into a real business with employees and office space for a few years after that.
This has been in the works for a few months now and a lot of you who know me in the face-to-face world know this already, but I wanted to let the rest of the world know…I’ve left Yahoo!.
I’ve decided to return to consulting for now; I’ve formed a company called Platform Associates for this. I have a lot of breadth in my background, from day-to-day coding to product management at a fairly senior level, to technology marketing, developer relations, web services, and technology evangelism. If you’re interested in getting some help with any kind of technology product (on either a strategic or tactical level), let’s talk.
I’m also working on a Web site to make the process of sharing documents suck much less than the traditional method (which for most people involves sending files around as email attachments). If you’re like me and you think that sending documents as email attachments sucks as well, drop me a line and I’ll send you an invitation to the new site. We’ve got about 3-4 dozen testers banging away on it now but we could definitely use a few dozen more.
Let’s see, what else. The Developer Network is in the supple, nurturing hands of the Yahoo! team I formed and led; that team is now led by Mister Chad Dickerson, so if you need anything from those guys, they’re the ones to talk to.
Things I’ll be looking forward to:
- Being able to use Dodgeball without guilt
- Being able to make stuff at breakneck speed without having to go through nine levels of approval
- Being able to devote an absurd amount of time to technology learning projects (example: today I figured out how to rsync files between two Windows machines, w00t)
- Being able to set my own schedule, within the bounds of good taste, and spend some time working at home to spend time with my wife and kids before kid #1 heads off to kindergarten at the end of the month
- Spending lots of quality time with prospective investors and VCs (nearly all of whom have been lovely, seriously)
- Working until 1 a.m. or whenever because I want to get a particular task done and being able to see an immediate payoff to that even though I feel dog-tired the next morning
- Being able to overcome the limitations of running an Internet business the way we had to do it in 1999 — particularly in the area of outsourcing, server management, networking, and finding customers.
As usual, reporters are making this into a clash of the titans instead of evaluating it for what it is. This idea isn’t new, it was done many years ago and never really caught on. The basic technologies that are available to make something like this happen today aren’t much different than when Num Sum tried this in 1998, so it’ll be interesting to see what value Google can possibly add here aside from the heat and light of their halo effect.
I have a bias here (not as a Google competitor but as an Excel fan), but my sense is that any web-based spreadsheet is going to have a hard time competing with the next version of Excel. David Gainer’s Excel 2007 product blog has an awesome discussion of what’s coming up — after a few staggeringly mediocre releases (why did anyone pay actual money for Excel 2003?), the Excel product team is really thinking outside the box and adding some amazing new features.
So…if Google’s intention was to jab Microsoft, it’s not going to work. Google will probably get some users who don’t use Excel today, but serious spreadsheet users are not going to use any Web-based spreadsheet. Setting aside the issue of whether a Web-based spreadsheet can be responsive enough and contain the hundreds of features that spreadsheet power users demand, there’s the very important question of who gets to paw through your sensitive business data when it’s stored online.
I’ve been thinking about these kinds of problems a lot lately. I’m particularly chuffed about the way that my email archive is where documents go to die. I save most stuff that comes to me in email (after carefully sticking it into a folder) but it drives me crazy that I can’t publish/share documents that I get. Why should there be such a huge divide between my inbox, the Web, and other peoples’ workspaces?