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Collaboration Tools: Yammer, Google Wave, Campfire, Google Apps for Domains

We use several tools hourly at work – Basecamp for project communications, time tracking, and file sharing, our Socialtext wiki for cross project searchable information storage (procedures, lessons learned), our email, IM and shared calendars through Google Apps for Domains.  We’ve recently been adding a few other tools to our constellation. They’ve been sneaking in to solve particular problems. We’ve begun collaborating with each other in Google Docs and piloting Google Sites for some project specific collaboration (both available within Apps for Domains).
Google Chat status
One of the questions that resurfaces from time to time is how to share status. We have a daily standup meeting and regular project standups (monthly). We schedule quick check-ins with each other throughout the month, and most of us work in a big open room (“war room”) where status is a nerf dart toss, spoken question, or IM away.

Yammer for sharing status

However, from time to time we get into a fit of wanting more formal status sharing in the form of a microblogging application. We have messed around a little with Yammer (think of it as a closed Twitter within your corporate network), Google Wave, Campfire (chat integrated with 37signals’ Basecamp product), and updating status in our GChat IM available through Google Apps for Domains.

Here are some thoughts as I consider these microblogging/status sharing tools.This is a quick comparison of the most obvious tools given our existing infrastructure. I added my own interpretation with bolding for my critical decision feature. There are lots more categories I could have evaluated, including smartphone accessibility, but I’m considering the main use case for our team being folks on computers, not on trains nor in cars….

Feature Yammer Google Wave Campfire GChat/IM status in Google Apps for Domains
Private? Yes Yes When we tested this in 2007, it included all project participants, including clients, which made it a non-starter for us. Yes
Integration with Email Summary Email Summary A tab within our Basecamp projects Available on a screen I already monitor (my email inbox)
Cost Free to $5/month Free, invitation only beta currently $12-$99/month Free/included with Apps for Domains
Stores History? Yes, global Yes, threaded Yes, threaded by each project No history on status message.
Asynchronous? Yes Yes Yes No. Asynchronous chats get sent as email, status messages don’t.
Includes Files? Images? Links? Yes Yes Yes Links. No files or images here.

Google Wave for collaboration

I imagine most of the criticism of this post will be on applications or features I didn’t consider. I’m going to exclude Google Buzz right off the bat because it is not available in Google Apps for Domains and therefore not integrated with our other corporate infrastructure and because I don’t want to be drawn into my personal email interface at work if I can avoid it!  Other tools I haven’t tried are Socialtext Signals. Since our wiki is one step removed from our client interactions, it seems the wrong venue even if the tools are interesting. I also couldn’t get it to work in our wiki easily, so I ruled it out.  Please don’t confuse this with a comprehensive summary of all available tools. That has been done nicely by others (including  Laura Fitton on Mashable and  Dion Hinchcliff at ZDNet).

No one will be surprised by this conclusion: which application is better  comes down to what features you need. For me, my internal recommendation is for us to start using the “status” line in our GChat better before we jump to a whole new application. I’d like to see us adopt the habit before we adopt a particular tool. And, I don’t want another inbox or screen to check.

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