Online Collaboration and Social Networking Expands at Demo

From free Web conferencing to mobile social networking, new online collaboration services try to keep users connected.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.—Emerging forms of online collaboration and social networking foreshadowed an always-connected future during presentations at the Demo conference here.

Startup companies this week launched products ranging from free Web conferencing initiated from a Web link and a wiki that reads Office documents to a social-networking service that taps into mobile technologies to pair people with common interests.

Convoq Inc. introduced a free version of its Web conferencing system called ASAP Express with a feature for generating a graphical link that can be embedded in e-mails, a Weblog or Microsoft Office documents. The feature, called ASAP Links, displays a users presence information and allows others to click the link to start an online meeting, Convoq executives said.

/zimages/1/98392.jpgThe system provides voice over IP audio, video, text chat, screen sharing, PowerPoint demonstrations and file transfer capabilities. ASAP Express is a slimmed down version of the companys ASAP Pro system for one-to-one meetings. The company first launched ASAP during last years Demo conference.

Downloading the Windows software is free, but users also can pay per-minute charge to conduct multi-party conferences, Convoq said.

On the wiki front, startup JotSpot Inc. demonstrated an upcoming feature for its service that lets users convert existing Microsoft Office Excel spreadsheets or Word documents into wiki applications, or what it terms "situated applications."

"These are Web-based applications tailored to the business at hand," said JotSpot CEO Joe Kraus during a presentation.

JotSpot first launched a beta of its hosted wiki in October. Wikis are collaborative Web pages that are open to editing by anyone, and JotSpot has built the development of small applications on top of the wiki platform.

Kraus showed how the service can convert an Excel spreadsheet into an application through a series of wizard prompts.

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick here to read about the release of an update to a competing enterprise wiki from SocialText.

JotSpot focused on Excel and Word because workgroups regularly use those applications to track projects and create documents that need to be shared and worked on collectively, he said. The feature will be available in the next few weeks to beta users.

Meanwhile, social networking continued to gain attention, though it has moved beyond the concept of meeting friends of a friend.

Jambo Networks unveiled its service that leverages Wi-Fi and other wireless networks to set people up in face-to-face meetings. Through short introduction statements, or what Jambo calls "taglines," users broadcast their interests for meeting other people from laptops or other Wi-Fi-enabled devices.

"If you share something in common and are within walking distance, Jambo will introduce you wirelessly," said Charles Ribaudo, a Jambo co-founder.

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick here to read about earlier approaches to mobile social networking.

Jambo matches other users within wireless range with similar interests and without sharing personal information. The service can work without an Internet connection, instead tapping a local Wi-Fi network, Ribaudo said.

The service requires a client that supports Windows, Mac OS X and Pocket PC. Jambo is partnering with universities, conference and event producers and providers of Wi-Fi hotspots to deliver the service, and it will begin a pilot in the next few weeks at New Yorks LaGuardia Airport, Ribaudo said.

/zimages/1/28571.gifCheck out eWEEK.coms for more on IM and other collaboration technologies.