One of the biggest disappointments in the world of tech predictions has to be the enterprise social space. For years, the common wisdom in the market was that this segment would be booming… Millennials were supposed to infiltrate the workforce and with them bring a golden age of collaboration, replacing email and many other pieces of software in their wake. Huge bets were made in the area. Microsoft bough “enterprise Twitter” service Yammer, Cisco spent a fortune to launch Quad.
This is what I said in a post about the Quad announcement in September, 2010:
Now I know what you're thinking and you are absolutely correct. How many companies have tried to launch the next big thing in communications and failed. Perhaps the biggest recent example of failure is Google Wave which was supposed to transform our communications in a similar manner to how Google transformed our searches. We expected this fusion of social networking and email to take the world by storm and it just didn't. Perhaps it was the confusing UI or perhaps it was the complexity of it all.
Speaking of Wave, this is what I said in describing its failure in August of 2010:
I love Google when it fails as much as when it succeeds because it is in failure where we learn how to improve. What Google should learn from this lesson is if you can't get your parents to understand your new service in a few minutes then it’s broken. To paraphrase some in politics, "It's the UI stupid." Look at Skype, Sonos and Apple iDevices as models of how to do things.
A new company Vobi is out to change the collaboration/enterprise social market. They have a cool name, slick look (better than Wave by far) and a service which seems to blend the best of social and email and presentations. They acknowledge past failures but think with more powerful devices on the market and BYOD a fixture in the enterprise, the time is right for them to become the enterprise collaboration vehicle.
This is why they have a solid point. Companies are using SharePoint, LinkedIn WebSphere, WebEx, Skype, iMessage and email and to be honest it is a mess. Try to find your communications from six months ago and you may not remember where to even start looking.
Vobi replaces all of the above with a platform that allows multiparty video, chat, supports mobile apps (Android and iPhone with iPad-specific app on the way), allows the sharing of YouTube and other videos, lets users scroll through or download presentations as they are being given and more. Right now, this browser-based solution relies on a plugin but will soon allow you to leverage WebRTC. This is a good thing because some antivirus companies like those from AVG are aggressively protecting against the company’s web downloads.
Speaking of the internet, you may remember reading about the company’s funding round or past interviews or even mentions of the company at WebRTC Expo.
Here is an interview with the company at a recent WebRTC Expo
It's worth repeating, I like the name Vobi and yes, the look of its interface. Moreover, the ease by which you can configure a session and start a chat reminds me of any social network you might currently use. And just like these networks, the service will alert you on your mobile device when you receive a message.
A look at the Vobi presentation window
Basically, the conversation becomes the driver of the communication, not the application. The system allows archiving of everything that was presented and shared – meaning there is always a record of what went on. A typical web presentation is generally forgotten about and the notes and conversations that went with it are generally inaccessible in the future. Murali Sitaram of Cisco patiently explained to me years back how knowledge preservation will be essential in corporations as baby boomers retire and his knowledge on the matter is 100% accurate. Vobi, like Quad retains this knowledge in the corporation.
By the way, Quad is no longer sold by Cisco and it will be serviced only for two more years and as of last month, Cisco Engineering will no longer develop, repair, maintain, or test the product software.
Which brings us to Vobi. Enterprise collaboration is still a problem which is being solved by a disjointed network of apps and services that oftentimes don’t communicate with one another. There is a need for a leader to take over the market and do some feature/function consolidation.
Wes Cole the company’s CEO thinks the opportunity is immense. He points to special features that differentiate the company from most other solutions like local rendering of vector graphics so they look their best on your particular device. In addition, the service includes screen or application sharing so you can instantly take collaboration to a more personalized level.
Here is how Vobi can play a live YouTube video right inside the presentation window - in this case from Ozzy Ozbourne
Going forward we can expect Vobi to seamlessly work with phones so when you receive a call from another Vobi user you will be able to instantly add video and screen sharing, etc to the call. They also expect to add connections to cloud storage companies meaning easier sharing of resources within the application and eventually integration with consumer social networks you know and love. E-mail integration too will eventually be available and calls will be recorded – they will also be seamlessly transferred as needed from phone to office to cloud.
The market Vobi is addressing is enterprise social but also a number of other services such as collaboration, video, screen sharing etc. You could make an argument that enterprise social is in decline or dying and the other services are saturated with competition. Then again, when Skype was launched there were dozens of VoIP services going under and the market was going through a devastating time financially.
No analyst was optimistic about the prospects for the VoIP market at the time.
Vobi makes companies more productive. If you can get workgroups to use the service they will be more effective than using a range of other non-coordinated solutions. For now there is a six-month free trial which will soon turn into a 30-day free trial. After the trial ends, the cost is $5/user/month and there will be free guest connectivity – but guests will need to pay to get more features such as mobile connectivity or the ability to initiate calls.
Wes says he has transferred his high-volume email collaborators such as board members onto the platform. He went on to say it makes them all far more productive.
Now that I have presented the logical case for why the industry needs something like Vobi, let me make the personal case. Here at TMC it is not uncommon to get more than 1,000 emails a day among our management team. Microsoft in its infinite wisdom has set a limit on personal Outlook storage at 4 GB. At that point Outlook becomes bloated and slow and sometimes unusable. Much of my team spends lots of time grooming their mailboxes instead of working. A solution like Vobi would free up lots of time as much of our data would be the cloud’s problem and we won’t need to be groomers of OST and PST files.
In summary, Vobi is a solution which has a set of known problems and at the same time no one has successfully figured out how to do enterprise social and collaboration correctly. The company’s next challenge is getting the critical mass it needs to become the Skype of enterprise collaboration solutions.
To learn more about solutions like Vobi, be sure to come to WebRTC Expo in Atlanta Georgia, June 17-19, 2014.