OpenACircle is a new collaboration tool for teams which includes innovative screen-sharing and video conferencing features for instant collaboration with co-workers. This makes OpenACircle somewhat unique in the web-based project/task management space where most competitors have just designed a lightweight version of SharePoint and offer it up as a service. Instead, OpenACircle acknowledges the fact that distributed teams need better tools for collaboration and real-time interaction than just a simple file repository and meeting workspace.
Team Collaboration Today
Usually team collaboration tools are separated into distinct categories. You have tools for presentations like GoToMeeting, WebEx, or BudgetConferencing; you have whiteboarding applications like Twiddla's team brainstorming solution and sometimes you have combo solutions like Adobe's Connect Now which lets you whiteboard and web conference at the same time. Or there's Vyew which lets you whiteboard and screen share. Then you have your project or task management tool set which can be anything from Basecamp to Clever Tools to Google Docs or it can even be an enterprise 2.0 app like the newly launched Qtask. Finally, if you just want to share screens live, you have to turn to solutions like Yugma (review), Yuuguu (review), or DimDim.(This isn't an extensive list by any means, FYI).
There aren't many apps that combine all these functions into one. OpenACircle, however, makes a good effort at doing so. The only feature they're lacking is a dedicated whiteboarding tool, but considering the support for everything else from file sharing to screen sharing, it's not worth dismissing the app solely due to that one missing feature. Besides, they're looking into adding that in a later release, if there is enough demand.
OpenACircle's Feature Set
What OpenACircle does provide is an extensive feature set that works well for distributed teams that still need to meet up regularly and share what they're working on with each other. To accomplish this, the app provides the following features, as detailed below.
The core feature to OpenACircle is the concept of the circles themselves. Essentially, a circle is a virtual team collaboration space where everyone can share information and work with each other in an environment focused on one particular area of a task or project.
If you have documents, spreadsheets, PDFs, PowerPoints, or any other type of file, you can upload it to the circle. You can import contacts from your email program and you can invite other members to join the circle. From within the circle, you can quickly launch the other conferencing aspects of the program like web conferencing which is done using web cams or screen-sharing. Every action taken within a circle is meant to be fast and easy, often only one or two clicks away. In a circle, no one person is tasked with being the admin or organizer - everyone can upload files, start chats, or host a meeting.
A Live Room
Presentations and Web Conferencing
Whether you need to share your desktop for a presentation or just have an online meeting with other team members, you can accomplish this from OpenACircle. Anyone can schedule the meeting and invite members to attend. Although a dozen members can participate in a live audio or video conference at one time, OpenACircle limits you to viewing three web cams and one desktop at a time. They claim this to be an intentional design choice because "people talk in same clusters," but the reality is that the system might not be able to support a dozen live cam streams at once. That's not really a big deal for smaller teams, but those teams with more members might wish to see all the faces of the meeting attendees.
For anyone who missed the meeting, the recordings are made available for later viewing. What's interesting is that multiple recordings from each member's viewpoint are archived. This means that you could have Bob, who was watching Sue's desktop, saved in one stream and John, who was watching Bob's desktop, saved in another. That's a feature you don't see elsewhere.
While attending a meeting, you have the opportunity to chat with other members through an integrated text chatting feature. You can even privately chat ("whisper") to each other. Those public chats are later archived within the circle. They could be used for side discussions or even as real-time meeting minutes.
OpenACircle represents an innovative all-in-one solution for small teams. They could be teams in a traditional enterprise or SMB environment who are just looking for a better way to work together or they could also be distributed teams for whom geography is a challenge. Mobile professionals will like it too, as it allows them to attend meetings and have the benefit of team collaboration even when they're on the road alone.
Users today receive 25 circles with as many as 50 people in each circle with unlimited storage. OpenACircle.com will begin charging in January. Anyone who signs up now will receive 90 days free even if they exceed what is currently being provided for free. Pricing is $9.95 for a premium account that incorporates additional circles and additional storage. OpenACircle.com will always have a free version. A fully operable version will be free up to a certain memory limitation (1GB) and over that will be $9.95 per month per user.
You can now join the OpenACircle beta program from the company homepage.
UPDATE: In light of the comments below, it's worth noting that OpenACircle has initially launched Windows-only, but support for other platforms (like Mac) and browsers (including a mobile version) are coming in the future. More specifically, Firefox support is only 30-45 days out.