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To Battle Yammer, Slack And Hipchat, Convo Adds GIFs And In-Stream Doc Support

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mobile_creategroupConvo, a platform that lets workers post messages to and converse with others in their company in real time, is today releasing an update with a couple of notable features that alternately make the app more fun to use, and likely also a lot more useful (for those who use enterprise social media services to actually, you know, get work done).

It’s adding support for GIFs (good news for TechCrunchers! also, disclosure: we use Convo); and it’s adding significantly more document support, with users now able to start highlighting and annotating certain passages in documents that they upload to Convo, viewing full files from within the app, and linking to files in the cloud via Dropbox and Box. The whole app is also speeding up in terms of how long it takes to a person to view images and files within the desktop and mobile apps.

The moves to expand and improve Convo come amid other developments in the space.

Slack — the “viral” startup that recently raised nearly $43 million — and Yammer — acquired for Microsoft for $1.2 billion — are two companies that point to the opportunity, but also competition, in offering workers easy and effective ways to communicate with each other.

In that regard, Convo, with its $8 million in funding including a recent $5 million round from Morgenthaler, is a veritable David in this world of Goliaths. But it is punching above its weight.

mobile_dropboxTo date, CEO and founder Faizan Buzdar tells me that there have been over 2 million conversations initiated on Convo from some 9,500 businesses using the service. He doesn’t disclose, however, what that works out to in terms of revenues.

At the same time they are seeing an explosion of mobile usage, with 109% growth of mobile use in the past three months alone and now 50% of sign-ins coming from mobile devices — with 70% of that mobile usage on iOS.

That’s one reason why Convo has been adding more features to work with documents in-app: when you are on mobile it’s far more difficult to open documents in other programs, especially if they are large files.

It’s also battling against the issue that email has become a much less effective way for people to share things, and make sure that their colleagues are looking at stuff. “We’ve seen that in the enterprise space, 65% of the attachments in email are never opened,” he told me in an interview.

While Dropbox and Box are the two cloud storage partners being named today, I understand that further integrations are also in the works.

And indeed, there is still room for other growth here. Although PDFs and Word documents are being supported, Excel and other programs like it are not. “Excel can be rendered but it’s not available for annoations,” Buzdar tells me. “Today when you look at spreadsheets, they’re not for mobile.” Another area waiting to be disrupted, then.

mobile_annotationAs for the GIF support, this will come as a welcome addition for at least one customer base of Convo’s: TechCrunch employees. Since many of us do not work in the same office, we find that using animations, like interpretive dances, are often the best way of getting a point across, while also keeping things from getting too heavy. Today you can add in a link to a GIF but embedding them will just make the experience much more immediate.

And why is that important? Given that one of Convo’s unique selling points — well over and above Yammer, which is one big reason why we made the switch — has been the real-time aspect of the messages, making as much of the content as immediate as possible makes way more sense than simply offering links.

To be honest, I still think Convo has a lot more work to do. Too often for my taste, the mobile app on iOS, no matter how good my connection, just collapses into a spinning wheel on a blank screen; and you still do not have offline support in the app — meaning you cannot even check your notifications unless you are online and the app is not in spinning-wheel mode. That’s because while there is now a lot more native code in the app than in the past, there is still a lot of HTML5 in there.

But what we have in the update today is a decent upgrade and a sign that Convo continues to improve. I understand that there will be more in the upward direction very soon.

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