These online tools improve workgroup interactions, reduce email traffic and track the team's progress.
If you are trying to have more effective team communications, you are probably looking at products or services that go by names like "social CRMs" or "team engagement tracking apps." Regardless of what they are called, these apps can connect to a variety of social networks and email accounts and make it easier to manage your communications, track what your team has posted, understand what other team members are working on and improve workflows and productivity by avoiding interruptions or massive amounts of email.
I tried out two of these tools, Peak and Tibbr. Both are browser-based: Tibbr also has mobile and desktop clients.
The two services have somewhat different takes on how they work: Tibbr can be used to both monitor and post to various linked networks; Peak is read-only. Both have a variety of analytics to give you a better picture of how you use your various networks. The two also differ as to which networks they connect to, with Tibbr offering more options.
There are other tools that can consolidate your personal social networks, such as Nimble, the OX App Suite, Yammer (which has been purchased by Microsoft and is somewhat integrated into Office 365) and Salesforce Chatter. And if you want something to track just your social media activities on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, there are a variety of tools available, such as Hootsuite and TweetDeck.
The difference is that both Peak and Tibbr go beyond the standard social media networks and connect to business-related networks such as GitHub and Google Drive. They also are designed for teams to use, rather than just individuals who want to retweet the same message on a particular schedule.
I tested the two tools with several users on a small network with Macs, PCs and an iPhone and with a number of different browsers including recent versions of Chrome, Firefox and Internet Explorer.
Think of Peak as a content aggregator, or a dashboard that shows you what is happening with your various team members across their networks. You don't post anything directly from within the service; it pulls content from various services including Basecamp, Dropbox, GitHub, Gmail, Google Drive, Harvest (a time-tracking service) and Trello. It summarizes activities from these services in several different ways and (if you have admin rights) shows you who is active, when and on which particular service.
The idea is to minimize interruptions in your workflow by having everything in one place. It has been available since April.
When you first create a team, you are assigned a specific host name, such as strom.usepeak.com. The first member of the team has admin rights and can invite others to join. Unlike Tibbr, you can add anyone to your group, whether they are part of your corporate domain or not. Non-administrative members all have the same access level to the tool.
Peak doesn't have any mobile apps; it's available only via a Web browser. I didn't have any issues using a variety of the more recent browser versions on both Macs and Windows systems.
It has a simple screen that is divided into two parts: a left-hand menu where you can choose activities or people that are part of your workgroup and the main activity feed on the right.
Peak presents a unified social feed of posts to various networks in reverse chronological order that can be filtered by network or the person posting.
One menu choice is the configuration option. When you set up the product the first time, this is where you connect to your services and specify your login credentials. With some of the services, once you are authenticated, you can select particular items (such as Dropbox folders, or projects from Basecamp or GitHub) that you can follow in your activities feed. Each team member can decide which services they want to connect their Peak accounts to and which ones to leave alone.
For example, some users may not want to follow their Dropbox account, because they use it for private matters, while others may want to include it because it is where they keep their business-related files. This level of personalization is very handy, although it could be initially confusing to new users.
The activity stream is displayed in chronological order with the most recent events first. You have three different display options: all events, grouped by service (such as all GitHub activity) or grouped by a specific member of the team. You can filter out activities by particular service if these get too numerous, or if you just want to focus on one or two of them -- so, for example, if you need to focus on a particular Gmail conversation, you can temporarily filter out your Gibhub feed.
As a result, the information can be very insightful for a work team: You can see who is working on which Dropbox files, who is occupied in meetings (via Google Calendar) and who is updating GitHub code. You can see when these activities happened, although I found that the responsiveness varied: It sometimes happened nearly in real time and sometimes a day later, depending on how fluid the connection process was between Peak and the service involved.
Users with admin rights to Peak will also have an "Insights" menu option on their left-hand bar. This brings up a series of activity graphs that show you what time of day your various team members are posting content to the various linked services. You can see the most popular work times during the day, the most active days of the past month, and the aggregate amount of hours per team that they were working. (If that sounds somewhat intrusive, this is why it is restricted to admin users.)
At a Glance
MetaLabPrice: 5 people, $49/mo.; 10 people, $99/mo.; 25 people, $199/mo.; 50 people, $399/mo. 30-day free trialPros: Simple and easy to set up and use; connects to a wide variety of network servicesCons: Read-only view of your connected services; still has a few small bugs such as inconsistent auto-refresh
I came across several small bugs that were annoying, and an indication of the relative immaturity of the product. For example, I sometimes had to refresh my browser to get the latest activity updates, and sometimes the browser would automatically refresh itself. When I tried to connect to my Basecamp account, Peak didn't offer any granularity by project -- I could only track everything in the account.
By the way, be aware: If no other members are posting content at a particular time, you get a somewhat alarming notification message on the left-hand column that says, "No other members are using Peak." The company may want to tweak that one a bit.
One advantage to Peak is its pricing: Peak is free for the first month and its prices are clearly specified on its website, something that other companies may want to take note of. It starts at roughly $10 a month per person, although there are different price tiers depending on the size of your workgroup, with lower rates for larger groups.
Peak is a great tool to provide usage insights into your various connected networks and a useful way to cut down on emails to provide better collaboration.
The oddly named Tibbr from Tibco Software has been around for three years now and has more than seven million users, according to the company. It is notable for the way that it collects a great deal of information from a very diverse set of social networks, cloud storage repositories and other sources.
Tibbr takes its interface cues from Facebook: If you use that service, Tibbr's user interface and controls will be very familiar. There is a Timeline-like activity feed that it calls Wall (from the original Facebook reference to this feature), the ability to "like" and "star" various posts, "follow" team members, upload files and have one-on-one text chats with team members.
That is great, but there is a lot more to Tibbr than just providing an inside-the-firewall Facebook clone.
In the past three years, Tibbr has been busy adding a lot more application integrations. In addition to posting messages across your social networks, you can manage their activity feeds and bring some coherent organization to your team communications. If you have ever sent an email asking a colleague if they saw a file you posted on Box, or if you have tried to set up a wiki and failed, or if you spend time sending emails to try to agree on a common online meeting time and agenda, then Tibbr might be the ticket towards improving your team's productivity. It can handle all of these tasks and more.
Tibbr has three panels that run vertically down the screen. The menu column on the left has entries for the Wall, adding and managing your apps, sharing files and managing your meetings. The activity feed runs down the middle. On the right, you have various summary data and links, such as the link for downloading the mobile client or inviting your LinkedIn connections to resources..
Meetings can be scheduled quickly by clicking on a particular post on your Wall and then choosing one of the several videoconferencing services that are supported, including WebEx, Google Hangouts and Skype. This process works well.
Tibbr's desktop allows both monitoring and posting new content to various social networks, along with a quick summary graphic on the right to keep track of your team's activities.
Each post on your Wall can be shared via email or be used as the genesis for additional discussions. In addition, when you bring up one of your networks, you can make use of three useful optional apps: Ideas, Pages, and Tasks. Each app costs $5/user per month.
Ideas are messages that can be voted on by your workteam (similar to the "Like" function in Facebook), which can be useful for quick polls of your team. Ideas also can be sorted by activity or creation date. Pages can create rich document collections that include videos, graphics and complex formatting that can pull content from other online sources. Tasks are lists of to-do items that can be shared by the team.
Tibbr has the potential to create some very elaborate data structures, such as a series of projects, each of which have specific tasks, assignments and due dates. This is where you begin to appreciate the depth of Tibbr.
At a Glance
Tibco SoftwarePrice: $5-$12/user/month, depending on which additional apps are used. 30-day free trial.Pros: Large collection of third-party app integrations, mobile apps, potential for elaborate data structuresCons: Available only for single domains
Tibbr also has a menu option for Insights, a colorful tiled dashboard showing a summary of what documents and how many posts from your team were added last week. You can click on any of the tiles and drill down with time-series graphs or more specific information, which appears in the right-hand column. There is also a customizable leaderboard that can show you who was active over the past week or month.
Besides the browser interface, Tibbr also offers desktop clients (built in Adobe Air) for Windows and OS X, as well as apps for iOS, Android and BlackBerry. Both the mobile and desktop apps have different menu arrangements from the Web client.
Tibbr works only within a particular domain name, so if your organization has team members with private Gmail or other domain addresses, you won't want to use this tool.
Tibbr has an excellent level of integration with various online services, which can make team collaboration -- and tracking who says what to whom and on which service -- a lot easier.
Tibbr and Peak connect to different services and that could be the deciding factor in choosing which of the two makes the most sense for your team. For example, Tibbr connects to Box, but Peak works with Dropbox. The other important feature to look at is the fact that Tibbr can post information to your accounts while Peak can read it only.
However, both can go a long way to eliminating copious email messages, and provide insights into how your team uses various networks.
David Strom has been contributing to Computerworld off and on since 1996, and has been the editor-in-chief at Network Computing and Tom's Hardware. He can be reached via Twitter at @dstrom or his website strominator.com.
This article, Peak vs. Tibbr: Two apps track team communications, was originally published at Computerworld.com.
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This story, "Peak vs. Tibbr: Two apps that help track team communications" was originally published by Computerworld.
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