Zoho’s first new application of 2009 is Zoho Discussions, a software-as-a-service online community application that lets users create forums for colleagues and customers in which to bandy about ideas and nourish them with conversation threads.
With Zoho Discussions, businesses can create internal discussion exchanges for colleagues and external forums to host conversations with customers, Zoho Evangelist Raju Vegesna told eWEEK.
Users set up a portal to begin a discussion, choosing their own URLs for forums and communities. Clicking on a thread expands individual discussions going on in the portal.
Businesses using Zoho Discussions can provision who gets to access which discussion forums and with what permissions. Businesses can also brand forums as they choose, adding their logo and other details to identify their company.
The real delight with Zoho Discussions is that the application does more than provide a forum where users can upload files and bounce ideas off one another. Though Zoho lists the application under its Zoho Business banner, Discussions is rich in much of the functionality Zoho users have become familiar with from Zoho’s productivity and collaboration apps.
For example, Vegesna said Discussions integrates Zoho Chat to let users communicate. “If I respond to a topic and I see that you are online, I can start a chat session with you immediately within the discussion topic itself,” he said.
This underscores the blurring of the lines between enterprise and collaboration applications going on at Zoho. While Zoho aims to serve markets for both collaboration and enterprise applications, rival Salesforce.com integrates Google Apps to enable its CRM customers to collaborate.
Zoho Discussions includes user profiles, labels and watch lists, content organization and file sharing, search, RSS, and support for OpenSocial widgets. There is a WYSIWYG post editor and support for e-mail confirmations, threaded conversations, drafts and previews, and managing preferences. Zoho Discussions also employs real-time spam checking and CAPTCHA tools to safeguard forums.
Peruse the complete feature list here and check out the video in this blog post for a run-through of Zoho Discussions, which builds on idea management platforms from Salesforce.com, Spigit and Brightidea.
Discussions began life as an alternative to the community solutions Zoho was licensing for internal use, which Vegesna described as “painful.” For the last six months, Zoho has been testing Discussions as a way to interact with its customers via Zoho Forums, on which there are more than 20,000 posts.
While this may be the first of two or three new applications from Zoho in 2009, Vegesna said the company has been focused on integrating its existing applications with each other, as in this marriage of Zoho Mail and Zoho CRM, and with other products from companies such as Microsoft and Google.
Zoho Discussions is immediately available free for users requiring two forums. The Free version offers unlimited portals with two discussion topic forums, one administrator and an attachment space cap of 100MB.
The Standard version costs $25 per month, for which users can access five forums, 10 subforums and up to 1GB of storage, with one admin and three moderators, and custom domains. The Professional version costs $75 per month for 25 forums, 50 subforums, 5GB of storage, unlimited moderators and admins, custom domains, and bulk moderation and e-mail.