Online Team Collaboration Services: Near-Time Is On
After a long gestation, first as a Mac-only application and then as a preview-only Web-based collaboration and team support service, Near-Time has been just launched.
Near-Time is an online asynchronous collaboration platform that supports collaboration on all environments. It's web-based. It's hosted, so there's zero installation. Near-Time is based upon emerging web-standards and takes advantage of many of the core components driving the new web. Near-Time integrates blogging, wikis, calendaring, email, file sharing, RSS output, tags and more. All, in a quiet, secure and well organized advertising-free online environment.
Among some of the unique interesting capabilities of this new service are branding and customization of your collaboration space and no limitations to the number of project spaces that can be created and to the number of people invited to participate in each.
Near-Time is fast, easy-to-learn, and capable of interoperating with some of your existing critical assets like email. Content placed on the Near-Time collaboration platform is also replicated on multiple servers, so a full and up to date back-up is always available.
Also just announced, is the Near-Time pricing plan which includes a fully free entry-level offering which includes an unlimited number of members and collaborative spaces for a 12 month period. Commercial plans start at $4.95 per month and include the ability to share files and collaborate securely via SSL.
I had already met Reid Conrad, CEO of Near/Time, over a year ago here in Rome, when his tool was still a Mac only app. At the time I, and my good friend Massimo Curatella, had expressed to him our view on how, from a user stand-point, his tool could have been further developed to become a usable and valuable asset for team collaboration and newsmastering-related tasks (aggregation and republishing of selected content). And while I am sure we were not the only ones contributing some such suggestions, I was pleasently surprised to see much of what I had myself suggested materialized in this new web-based online collaboration platform.
So, after having tested myself during the invitation-only period the new Near-Time platform I have re/contacted Reid for an audio interview (23 mins) in which you can learn more about this new free web-based online collaboration platform and about its unique strengths.
Here below is the recorded audio playback tool which allows you to stream and listen to the full interview immediately. You can also donwload the interview .mp3 file or read the full text transcript here below:
Click the play button and wait momentarily to listen to the interview
Reid Conrad, CEO of Near-Time.com
Full text transcript of the audio interview with Reid Conrad, CEO of Near-Time.com
Robin Good: Hello everyone, here is Robin Good, live from Rome, Italy and today I'm connecting in real time with my good friend Reid Conrad. Good morning, Reid, how are you doing?
Reid Conrad: I am well Robin, good afternoon.
RG: Thank you, thank you for keeping an eye on my time zone. It is afternoon here in Rome, Italy, but what time is it over there where you are? And where are you?
Reid Conrad: Robin, I'm in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, just outside Research Triangle Park, and it's about 10:15am.
RG: And Reid Conrad is the man behind Near-Time, a tool, a technology, a service, a software that you may not have heard about before but at which Reid and his team has been working at for a long time. I have met Reid about less than a year ago here in Rome for a wonderful dinner outside on a nice trattoria nearby my office. And we long discussed the initial step of this tool that today has finally the appearance of something quite unique and interesting. So, I don't want to take it too much away from Reid; why don't you give me a brief introduction for those people that don't know you and don't ever heard before of Near-Time.
Reid Conrad: Thank you, Robin and indeed that was a fabulous evening in Rome and I look forward to seeing you again, hopefully soon.
Near-Time has been working in the collaborative space now for a couple of years. Our initial platform was in the Mac OSX environment, and since over that time period, based upon our experience there, we've made the transition into a platform that supports collaboration on all environments. It's web-based. It's hosted, so there's zero installation. And it's based upon emerging web-standards and takes advantage of many of the core components driving the new web.
RG: Great, for what I can recall of the original Near-Time, which I tested many months ago on the Mac OSX, it was essentially a tool geared toward much of what I was still developing in my head under the concept of newsmastering; at least I wanted to see that although maybe Reid and his team were coming from different directions, but to make a long story short, Near-Time offered in my eyes at the time, the ability to collect information. I was working on myself; I was producing myself; I was finding on the web and putting it together in certain kind of folders that had some unique name and to be able then to store and republish this information in flexible ways, supporting RSS and so on.
So, that's the memory, the original memory of Near-Time. Is that the same picture you have of that old Near-Time? And, what is the present picture? That is, in what area of online collaboration Near-Time is trying to establish itself?
Reid Conrad: Eh, Robin, you're right-on with regard to where we started, and at this stage, or during the transition with our users, some of the web technologies have matured in such a way to give us a better platform, and provide greater capabilities for users to interact, integrate, and interoperate amongst themselves but also with the web itself.
Their collaborative relationships can be private and public in a concurrent manner; they can bring in web information and make that part of their collaborative experience.
Near-time has built upon the web standards with platforms such as weblogs, wikis, we bring in group calendaring and scheduling as part of that. And it's built on a rich context layer so that group discovery of what's going on, what people are working on, is all available and can be made available privately or publicly very easily, very quickly.
Our drive is to allow users or to enable users to get into this accelerating mode of information management, of collaboration on an ongoing basis, not some present model where let's do something and get started and not become static. We see the collaborative exercise; we see the social aspects of computing as being a real continuum.
On top of that we are building upon existing technologies such that we co-exist well with e-mail, that some of these, you know, well established platforms that have been, you know, around for years, can co-exist. That said, many of these platforms are not well-suited for this form of accelerated information management and collaboration.
RG: Excellent, and for those of you really scratching their head and wondering what kind of tool Near-Time is providing out there, well there is nothing better than going out to Near-time.com; and signing up to try it out. Because what would you see is in fact something quite interesting.
In my own simple words I would describe it as team-supporting space online in which you can have basically the essence of wiki or blog-wiki tool in which you can create a new pages, new content with images, text, formatting, all you want very easily, in which you have a shared calendar, in which you have a contact list of members of which you see profiles, their activities, their picture and so on. And in which then you can easily search and inter-operate with the others because you are all in touch through the same web-based space.
So, for those who really have not much of experience with these advanced technologies, maybe a Yahoogroup or something of that nature will give them a better idea of what to I'm referring to: a space online where you can associate a certain project and a number of people and get all of the material, exchanges, communication and content relevant to that project and group of people to be in one common space that can be easily accessed, updated, and from which you can retrieve information fast.
That's what I see now. Tell me how close I am portraying my early new review, my early sensations on the new Near-Time all web-based.
Reid Conrad: Robin, you're right on track. And I think from a user-perspective I think if they step back and think about how much they use e-mail, as an example, for collaboration it's a very large portion of many corporations, people, companies, how they inter-operate, how they collaborate. If you take that out, you can do all of that within Near-Time, from a collaborative standpoint. E-mail certainly is great for point-to-point messages, but it's not ideal for ongoing interaction, ongoing iterations of content.
We've started using Near-Time internally early last fall and in that time period, our e-mail based utilization dropped about two-thirds. And instead now we have this captured knowledgebase that is unstructured but is available to us for use-repurposment via context filters, via intelligent search facilities. You know, frankly e-mail doesn't do well if you think about collaboration itself. The more interactive and more iterations that are driven for collaboration, the e-mail model really breaks down quite quickly.
RG: Indeed, it does. And the new Near-Time web-based space does again support fully syndication of news and content produced and input into this group or space both via RSS as well as by ATOM-type of feeds. You can subscribe therefore also via e-mail, via either direct via RSS-to-e-mail converter, to any new posting that happen there. You can make e-mail contributions directly to the Near-Time space by sending to specific addresses connected to specific pages or spaces. And so, it makes working together apparently quite interesting. What are some of the unique features of your web-based collaboration space that you may want to point my attention to?
Reid Conrad: Really, Robin, I would break them into three core categories.
The first is an interactive platform. And in this model we provide users both a private forum of collaboration, but also a public forum of collaboration.
Second, within interaction, everyone's welcome. You know, you can have any e-mail address; you can have a dot-net, MSN e-mail account, or a G-mail account, you could have your corporate account. A diversity of people can come together within Near-Time easily, automatically, within the implementation path; we've just started making Near-Time available two weeks ago. We have a few hundred organizations already working within Near-Time to collaborate with each other. But I should say: internally but also externally. In the case of the public use of Near-Time, we actually use Near-Time as our public engine for engaging ourselves with the web itself.
Second area involves integration, okay? In this case we've brought together web-logs, wikis, and calendaring in a single interface. By bringing those together we can build off of a shared context model that again makes it easy to find information. I may be working on a project, you may be working on a related project, I may not know about it. But I can use a filtering facility so that we both understand what's going on as trusted parties.
We find that really helps with regard to building or accelerating the iteration cycles, remixing the content in web-speak we use both categories and tags. It provides the facility for users to create both let's say topical-based information, but also process-based information around their content. An example would be perhaps we would have a category on collaborative trends or collaboration key ideas. We might also though have tags that would be identified as draft or important.
I can use this, our search facilities, to create automatically views of what's going on based upon the operations based upon what you feel is important or what I feel is the contextual relevance of that information. I can also save that.
So on a recurring basis I can go back and at a glance go, okay, what does Robin see that's important? What is in Robin's area that's draft? I would like Robin to see what I'm working on based upon this point of relevance. We can see that together. You can also syndicate to that. So as I post or make something newly available that's important, you can jump in. And you can see automatically via feeds, both, on any computing device and see what's happening with my work and engage yourself automatically.
RG: And what is your business model on this, Reid?
Reid Conrad: Well, within this it's not just what we do it's how we do it. And our sense in developing Near-Time over this period of time was we wanted to make sure it was approachable, okay? And within that, we'll be offering Near-Time's entry level plan as a free service, okay?
The service will give users complete capabilities for private and public weblogs, wikis and group calendaring. We're very excited by that implementation. Commercial plans will start at $49.95 per year or $4.95 US a month and then move up depending upon user needs or requirements as they go forth. The commercial plan is based upon the ability to attach and share files content, application files, et cetera.
RG: Yeah, please, dwell a little more on those aspects of the premium service and kudos for driving the new way of the web which is to provide a free service that provides good benefit as the opening offer and then maintaining through some premium extra services.So I'm all in favor for what you're doing; I think it's the right way to go, but tell us more about what's in for those who are going to be liking it very much or what are going to be the limitations that some people will want to pay to go beyond.
Reid Conrad: Well Robin, when we last met in Rome, you were pointing out the importance of you know, the economy of software, and making sure that everybody can participate. There's no reason why the price points of the past should be carried forward.
The fact is, you know, the new internet is driven by democratic accessibility; that everybody can participate, everybody can get engaged and share their ideas.
When we start putting pricing in, we reduce the ability for participation. We would like all organizations to jump in and become engaged.
The commercial plans are based upon the storing of group files, any type of attachments. You can imagine, you know, PDF's, graphic files, Microsoft Office documents, spreadsheets, things like that. The commercial plans will also provide security facilities for encrypting and authenticating the information. We also think by the way at $4.95 a month for this level of service that we're providing, it's a great commercial offering.
RG: It is indeed, absolutely, and sorry if I made you feel bad about this but I wasn't clear. I really think that you have a great offering even for the premium payers, absolutely. $4.95 a month, $49 a year, it's a difficult price to beat and I see no ads flying by, there are no things popping up. I don't see no naked girls around, so it looks pretty clean, easily accessible, well designed and simple. How much customization and branding can I do to it?
Reid Conrad: You have quite a bit of flexibility actually. You can add logos to a Near-Time space, but you can also use your own style sheet, and customize the environment as you'd like from a look and feel standpoint. We also provide support for domain mapping, so if you'd like to bring this in to your environment, great, you know, that's powerful.
I should also say that, you know, as users get started, they can create as many spaces as they would like. They can invite as many people as they'd like. People that join their spaces can create their own spaces. So, we really, we've working very hard on the architecture to make sure that the accessibility as people get started can grow. That they can create their own environments, they can put their own look and feel in their environments as they put their own communities together, whether that's professionally or for personal reasons.
RG: Fantastic, but let me get the point straight. You said that people who are invited as part of a group, let's say that I sign up and I am a premium user and I can upload my attachments and everything and I invite a number of people.These people in turn can themselves create as many spaces as they want, and only at the time they would want to themselves upload to their own spaces some files or attachments, then they would have to go to premium services but otherwise they would be running for free the service just like I do.
Reid Conrad: Exactly.
RG: Great, and so my last point just flew out of my head right now. There was something hanging there but your reply was so fast that it zapped it out.
Oh, yes... relating to the files and attachments, are you going to provide a separate storage area in which I can upload them and organize them or will I use part of the wiki facility to do that? How is that enabled?
Reid Conrad: We will provide the storage for users to upload and share. As you pointed out, your Near-Time content can be shared, or be made available through RSS or ATOM. What is exciting about the use of these standards is that we've been working with and on for many years is that as files go up, I can see what's maybe through automated search or RSS feeds I've set up, I can receive not just the content that you've authored within Near-Time, but I can also receive the files, which provides a great point of keeping the team on the same, you know, file version.
One of the huge challenges of collaborating via e-mail is which files which, what's the latest up-to-date version. By using the ability to attach those files, keep them on Near-Time and then using things like RSS, we can get them back down to the desktop for the group and keep everybody up-to-date on what's the latest and greatest.
RG: That's great. I haven't seen Yahoogroups do that yet, but it seems like the most obvious idea they should have had a long time ago. That is, you subscribe to a team or to a project and in the subscription you don't only get the exchanges and the discussions, you also get the files that are posted there.
Super, super! Thumbs up from Roma! And I guess I have really a full basket here now and I only want to play and use it more and so I invite everyone else out there to go out indeed, and tryout Near-Time, again, www.near-time.com. And Reid, for me, Robin Good in Rome, Italy, it is all for today. Really you give me lots of interesting information. I leave it to you though for the closing remarks, special offers and anything you want to say to conclude this very interesting conversation we've had today. Thank you again for your time and I leave it to you for closing. Ciao!
Reid Conrad: The early feedback, the early response has been fabulous and I have to say you've been fabulous in helping to shape our direction, and really what we see is a strategic move with regard to the next stage of collaboration and really taking advantage of the web and making it available to everybody.
So, thank you and I look forward to seeing you soon!
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