Startup Tackles Instant Messaging for Groups

Five Across launches a business IM service called InterComm with group-based presence control and centralized file sharing.

Instant messaging meets workgroup collaboration in a new enterprise IM service launched this week.

In unveiling its InterComm service Monday, startup Five Across Inc. is betting that a set of innovative features such as workgroup-level presence control and centralized file sharing will persuade business users to join another IM service.

Only time will tell, but the Palo Alto, Calif., company has caught the attention of investors. Also this week, it announced $2 million in Series A investment from venture capital firms Granite Ventures LLC and Adobe Venture LP.

At its core, InterComm has built a different architecture for instant messaging by combining group functionality with chat and contact lists, said Glenn Reid, founder and CEO of Five Across.

Users organize their buddies into various workgroups, where they then can display different information about their availability to different sets of users. While at work, for example, a user could appear as available to co-workers while appearing as offline to personal contacts.

"IM is great, but all IM is same at this point, and its hard to envision something different or better," Reid said. "What we think is missing is this hierarchy, and you see symptoms of this."

/zimages/2/28571.gifMicrosoft has foreshadowed group presence features for its Office Live Communications Server. Click here to read more.

Beyond greater presence control, though, Five Across also has added features that are more common in enterprise collaboration software into the InterComm IM product. Within each group, the IM client displays a shared work space of files, notes and dates.

Users can send a message to an entire group, regardless of whether all members are online at the same time. Recipients can choose to have IMs forwarded to their e-mail or mobile phones, and group messages also will appear and are archived when a member logs back in, according to Five Across.

As for file sharing, InterComm lets users drag files into their buddy lists for group-level sharing as an alternative to the sending of e-mail attachments. It also can track file versions.

To track a project or opinions of a group, users can initiate a group poll and track results.

While InterComm competes with the major public IM networks from MSN, America Online Inc. and Yahoo Inc., it also is a bottom-up alternative to enterprise collaboration software, Reid said .

"Those things are forced on people by project leaders and a top-down push," Reid said. "But theyre not nearly as widely used as people think they should be. What were trying to do is tricking people into using collaboration features by building them into the instant messaging client."

Click here to read more about how IBM is working on combining chat, e-mail and work spaces in its Lotus Workplace.

InterComm is aimed at business users, and Reid expects the initial release to largely be deployed by individuals and workgroups. But Five Across, which today hosts the IM network, is working on offering an enterprise server option, possibly as early as the fourth quarter of this year, Reid said.

The server option would address enterprises requiring additional security and control, he said. The current InterComm service has password-level security but does not use encryption.

InterComm is available now in two versions. The basic version is offered as a free download from Windows and Mac OS X. Advanced collaboration features such as chat logs, file-sharing version control, and alert forwarding to e-mail and cell phones are available through the InterComm Pro edition, which costs $29 for a single copy.

/zimages/2/28571.gifCheck out eWEEK.coms Messaging & Collaboration Center at for more on IM and other collaboration technologies.


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