I'm excited about the release of the public beta of “As Soon as Present” (ASAP) from Convoq. This product has been in the making for well over a year, and is a powerful demonstration of new convergence trends we're experiencing with the Internet — social networking, VoIP, video messaging, broadband, instant messaging, and many others. The release today is a public beta of a 1.0 product, but it covers extrodinary ground for a first release. (full disclosure: I am a board member and investor in Convoq, Inc.)
Some of the features worth exploring:
* Rich media instant meetings — import and use your buddy lists and presence status from consumer and enterprise IM systems (AIM, Yahoo, MSN, and MSFT and IBM enterprise IM products), and convoke text chat, VoIP, and video conferences with anyone on the Internet (anyone who has Flash Player, that is). It works transparently through firewalls, and works with end-users on any platform (Windows, OS X, Linux).
* Robust web conferencing features. Meetings can be of any size, with moderation tools available as the number of users in a meeting grow. A moderator or presenter can own the podium, and present themselves via video of remarkably good quality, share their desktop with others, and deliver online powerpoint presentations with excellent fidelity (e.g. you can use transitions and animations in PPT, and they translate beautifully into the Flash format, including any audio or video content used in powerpoint). This is part of the trend in “modernizing web conferencing” that products like Breeze Live and ASAP both accomplish nicely, making first-generation products such as WebEx and Placeware feel awkward.
* Collaboration and presence management features. A fundamental notion in ASAP is presence (e.g. As Soon As Present), where it goes way beyond the extremely limited notions of presence in existing IM systems. For example, in ASAP you can have delegates or Stand-Ins — if you aren't immediately available, enable other users to select a stand-in to try and communicate with (e.g. co-worker, boss, husband). A more powerful concept is that of Lifelines — these are topic-based presence switches that enable users to find someone to communicate with based on a topic or role (e.g. IT HelpDesk, Legal Services, Product Support). Both of these are good examples of social networking features in the real-time realm.
* It's all Flash, baby. Convoq has deftly and powerfully taken advantage of Macromedia's Flash platform to deliver an exceptionally rich user experience throughout the product. While the product installs as a desktop application, it is almost entirely built in Flash (some native code is needed to work with existing IM clients, to convert PowerPoint to Flash, and for integration into the windows system tray). More importantly, the product is also built on the Flash Communication Server, which provides VoIP, video conferencing, and shared data services. But most user's of ASAP will never install any software, and will collaborate and communicate with you directly through a Flash application running in a browser. The experience of engaging someone in instant video communications without them having installed any software is always a joy — better yet, having a quick web conference/meeting without the awkwardness of WebEx and Placware is also great!
Give the Public Beta a try, and share your thoughts. I'm sure the Convoq team is listening! I will be writing more about ASAP in the future. [Jeremy Allaire's Radio]