Collaboration between distributed users online is widely recognized as one of the key next steps in software development. The products available for collaboration are becoming increasingly light weight, powerful and easy to use. Two companies that we’ve found entering into this market with compelling, but markedly different, products are ConceptShare and Thinkature.
Both products let users create shared visual workspaces that can be marked up and chatted in. If you are a visual designer, someone planning events or otherwise looking to stop emailing or faxing visual objects back and forth – one of these two services might be just what you are looking for. Thinkature is simpler, free and available now. ConceptShare is more powerful, subscription based and due to come to market in a few weeks.
Adobe, Microsoft and other large companies offer collaboration tools, but these two small companies provide something faster, simpler and less expensive. Tools like Conceptshare and Thinkature serve a different purpose than systems like WebEx because they allow for both synchronous and asynchronous collaboration. Since they are entirely browser based, they should also work cross platform.
ConceptShare did a demo at TechCrunch Party #7 and is now nearly ready for launch. People who have requested beta accounts will be given access next week and the product will be available commercially in about two weeks. It’s a very impressive tool aimed primarily at visual designers.
The product is built in Flash and the three person company has taken about half a million dollars from a local angel investor.
Conceptshare workspaces can include multiple concept pages, comments appear in individual threads that can be clicked through one at a time so they don’t become overwhelming, images can be drawn on and zoomed into. Screen captures can be imported by simply providing a URL. All the modules of the workspace can be resized by dragging their borders; so if I want to see the last 15 lines of chat instead of having the image being discussed taking up the bulk of my screen I can easily make that change.
Prices haven’t been absolutely determined yet, but a single workspace with up to 5MB of storage will likely be free, there will be a number of intermediary offerings and enterprise subscriptions will start at $200 per month. High end subscriptions will include the ability to fully brand your workspaces.
Another feature that Conceptshare is offering is an expert directory. In time the company hopes that topical experts will offer their design consulting services for a fee inside the system. I’m a little skeptical of how viable this will be, but visual designers may be among the most viable markets for online one time paid consulting.
Conceptshare is very pleasing to use, but it’s usefulness is largely limited to visual design. It’s clearly the most powerful of these two services, but if you’re looking for something free, fast and simple then Conceptshare may not be what you’re looking for. The following is a demonstration video from the Conceptshare team.
Thinkature is a YCombinator startup started by two recent Olin College graduates. They’ve probably taken 10% as much funding as Conceptshare. The Thinkature product is free and available now. The company formally launched in October.
Thinkature works best for communicating thought processes visually. You can resize images but you cannot zoom as you can in Conceptshare. The company’s business model wasn’t something they were willing to discuss with me, but they said that they were looking beyond the subscription and storage model. Thinkature’s target users are anyone who appreciates wikis, the company told me. Education and product design are among the different uses they have seen so far.
If you’re looking for a fast and free way to collaborate around a design proccess, Thinkature may serve you well.
I think it’s interesting that the market for collaboration software is large enough that both of these companies will probably be able to find more than enough users. They’ve taken very different approaches to building similar products; but those products will likely appeal to very different users.
Other products to look at in this space include GE’s Imagination Cubed and Vyew.