Sunday, October 18, 2009

Colayer's approach to collaboration software

Chances are you have not heard of Colayer, a Swiss-Indian company producing a SaaS-based collaboration software. I did a small project with the guys, that is how I got to know. When I first saw their product I immediately thought the guys are onto something good, so it is worthwhile to share a bit of their application concepts. They follow an approach I have not seen anywhere else.

On first look Colayer seems to be a mixture between wikis and forums: the logical data structure resembles a hierarchical web-based forum and the forum entries are editable and versioned like in a wiki. But there is more: presence and real-time. All users that are currently logged in are visible and one can have real-time chats within the context of the page one is in or see updates to the page in real-time (similar as in Google Docs). These chats are treated as atomic page elements (called sems in Colayer parlance) just like the forum entries or other texts. Through this mechanism, all communication around one topic stays on one page and in the same context.

There are two more crucial elements: time and semantics. All sem's visibility is controlled by their age and their importance. As such, a simple chat is given less weight that a project decision and will fade out of view after some time. All new items from all pages (i.e. discussions or topics) are aggregated on a personal home page and shown within the context where they occurred.

Below is a screenshot of such different sems in one page. One page corresponds to one topic or forum or wiki page. You can see the hierarchical model and the different semantics (denoted by the colors).

Here is an example screen shot that aggregates different recent sems on one page (essentially a context-aware display of new items including time and context in the same display). Note that this way of displaying new items manages to map importance, time and context into a two-dimensional page, which I find a very cool achievement.

The funny thing about Colayer's product (especially when compared to Google Wave) is that one "gets it" when first looking at it. It solves a problem I am facing in my work on a daily basis: where to put or find crucial information - on an internal mailing list or on the wiki?

The Colayer application is delivered as a browser-based SaaS solution (mainly targeted towards company-internal collaboration). This limits potential usage scenarios outside of the firewall. It would be cool if Colayer found a way of opening up their application to other data sources or consumers. It would be worth it, the app rocks.

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