There’s no doubt that collaboration software is an incredibly crowded space, yet many small teams often fall back on Skype group chat for their realtime conversations, perhaps supported solely by email and the likes of Google Docs. But IM conversations are hard to track, archive and turn into something actionable, especially when compared to more asynchronous and structured collaboration software. That’s something that Finland-based Flowdock, which exits Beta today, aims to address.
A sort of Evernote-for-conversations – although that’s an admittedly narrow comparison – at the heart of Flowdock is a nifty realtime browser-based group chat window, which resides on the right hand side of the screen, a little reminiscent of one aspect of Google’s now defunct Wave. But unlike your typical IM client or Skype’s group chat, messages can be tagged, hence the Evernote comparison, either on the fly or retrospectively.
So, for example, a discussion point could be tagged with a team member’s name and the word “to-do”, essentially adding it to a group to-do list. Or tagged #bugs, if you’re discussing a software release, and so on. Additionally, links, images and other files can be uploaded directly into the realtime chat window a la Wave. Another nice touch is that you can switch on audio alerts for when somebody mentions your name, the idea being that team members can safely leave Flowdock running in the background without worrying about missing something important.
However, on the left hand side of the screen is where Flowdock gets a little more interesting, although also a tad confusing until you learn to adjust to the application’s workflow. That’s sometimes the nature of the beast if you’re trying to actually offer something different to what already exists.
First up is the “Dashboard”, which gives alerts to mentions of your name in any chat messages.
Next up is the “Flowser”, which offers a search box where you can search for tags and filter by files and links. Any search can also be saved by making it a favourite. So, as in my previous example, you could favourite a search for your own name and “to-do”. You can also see an overview of saved searches, recently used tags and latest files, links etc.
And lastly, the “Influx” lets you track RSS feeds, Twitter accounts or searches, along with specifically forwarded emails. All of these assets can be commented on, such as deciding how to respond to a customer request made on Twitter or an email from a client etc. It’s this aspect that has the most potential, although it feels a little underdeveloped. For example, the only way to annotate and discuss an image, perhaps a UI design, is to upload it into the realtime chat window or email it to Flowdock as an attachment.
In terms of revenue, Flowdock is adopting a typical SaaS model with monthly subscriptions based mostly on the organization’s size. There are free trial periods for all plans and Flowdock says that typical startups pay $19/month. To-date, the self-funded company says that 6,000 teams are currently using the service.