Group Mix: Persistent Collaboration for Team Building

groupmix 50 thumb Group Mix: Persistent Collaboration for Team BuildingGroup Mix by InnerPass delivers and sustains dynamic team building through its unique combination of persistent document sharing and real time communications tools – all at a very affordable cost for even the smallest business.

Building on its previous group collaboration experience with document management, persistent file sharing and real time conferencing, InnerPass has added a unique desktop sharing tool, a group calendar and a managed voice conferencing capability. Most importantly this unique feature set now comes together in a much more user friendly, cloud-based team collaboration service: Group Mix.

At the same time InnerPass will offer the Group Mix desktop sharing tool, Inner Meeting, as a separate service. While it can run as a stand alone service with up to ten participants it is also a tool that provides a path to complement a multi-party Skype voice or Group Video call with multi-party desktop sharing.

In designing Group Mix, InnerPass realized that the key to user adoption is the user experience. This has led to three significant changes:

  • Whereas their previous offerings required installation of a client (Windows or Mac), Group Mix is accessed from a very simple tabbed web-based interface on any web browser.
  • While Group Mix will support up to 100 participants in a Group there is no  that limit on the number of Groups.  Inner Meeting subscriptions will support up to ten participants in a desktop sharing session.
  • Group Mix adopts a philosophy of centering on people and conversations instead of files which now play an auxiliary role.

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Group Mix centers around the concept that a business team or special interest group is looking for a collaboration tool that persistently shares files and desktops across a Group. It also will have (Aug. 2011) the ability to chat with Group members on an ad hoc basis and while it currently supports either ad hoc or scheduled voice conference calls. A “Host” can create a Group and invite Members; Groups are private in that members must be invited by the Host.

A Host starts by creating a Group and inviting Members into the Group.

GroupMix.InviteMembers thumb Group Mix: Persistent Collaboration for Team BuildingGroupMix.SendInvite thumb Group Mix: Persistent Collaboration for Team Building

The User Interface allows a Group Member to access a list of Groups to select which Group is currently active. The left sidebar then shows the members of the Group. There are four tabs for access to Group activity. However, the Group Chat tab is currently inactive; its feature set will become available shortly.

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Group Mix Tabs

Group Chat (to come)

This will be the main collaboration and discussion area for Group Mix and will be the landing page upon entering a group. It will also serve as an activity log for the Group by keeping track of all activities occurring within the group, for example:

  • “Steve uploaded a new file to the group, click to view,
  • “Cathy started a new presentation, click to join,”
  • Bill scheduled a meeting for 07/04/11, click for info”
  • “TJ signed into the group at 1:42”
  • “TJ signed out of the group at 3:13”

Chat is asynchronous in that chat content can be entered by a user and viewed by other members immediately if they are logged into Group Mix or later when they log in. The content is archived and searchable.

Calendar

The primary purpose is to schedule group conference calls and have an overview of activity over time. Upon “Clicking to add a new presentation”, a second browser window opens (scroll down) where a member can either immediately launch a call or schedule a call. If a call is scheduled email notification goes out to Group Members.

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When sending out email invitations to a scheduled meeting, the email contains a countdown timer, links for making the audio connection (via SkypeOut, if the participant has Skype open) and links to Google Calendar and Outlook Calendar.

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View Meeting Information takes the invitee to a session login screen from which s/he may Join the session:

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Shared Documents

This tab provides the persistent access to shared documents. Members can upload new documents and can click anywhere on a stored document listing to download the document to a local PC. The Host can delete documents and/or email them to any email address.

Going forward InnerPass will add a file synchronization service such that any file changes are synchronized with files on Members’ local PC’s as they are updated. It will also incorporate InnerPass’s legacy version management.

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Private Documents

This tab provides persistent access to documents that are shared only between a Member and the Group Host.

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Desktop Sharing

InnerMeetingMenuBare Group Mix: Persistent Collaboration for Team BuildingA key feature of Group Mix is the Inner Meeting desktop sharing for either ad hoc activities or scheduled meetings. The meeting menu, shown on the right for the host, has a wide arrange of features to assist with managing the call:

  • Either launch desktop sharing on the host’s PC (“Play” icon) or pass control to another meeting participant who wants to share her/his desktop (dual screen icon).
  • Observers of a screen sharing session will see a similar menu with the exception that the player and pass control icons are replaced by a hand raising request icon.
  • The participant sharing the desktop, in turn, can select whether to show a window or the entire desktop. Click on the player icon and the desktop sharing commences.
  • The Participants pane lists all the meeting participants; the Host can invite others via either an email message or “copy and paste” a link to any instant messaging chat session.
  • The Chat pane allows for chat messages seen by all participants or “private” messages to individual participants.
  • Access to the conference bridge can be either by a direct call to phone numbers in over 25 countries or a SkypeOut call to the selected number. A PIN number provides enhanced security for access to the audio.
  • The menu’s top ribbon bar includes s a network connection quality monitor.

GroupMix.InviteOthers thumb Group Mix: Persistent Collaboration for Team BuildingA Host can invite Others into a session (whether a Group Member or not) via the “Invite Others” from which the Host can send an email message or “Copy” a link to the clipboard which can be posted in any Instant Messaging chat session.

Overall the Inner Meeting desktop sharing feature is a low cost escalation into multi-party sharing from Skype’s 1:1 desktop sharing into a multi-party session. Over the years I have seen many desktop sharing environments come and go; the Group Mix desktop sharing has the complete feature set, especially for the price. Check out this post for more information on using Inner Meeting as a stand alone service and how it complements Skype multi-party calling.

What happens to current InnerPass subscribers?

InnerPass launched its service as a Skype Extra in early 2009; since then they have had over 3 million downloads via the Skype Extras program and built up a substantial revenue generating subscriber base. According to their website, subscribers have included academic groups (students, teachers), sports teams, religious groups, small business sales teams, social groups (friends, neighbors) and Non-Profit organizations. Voice On The Web reported on an educational use in a healthcare application in the summer 2010.

While the Group Mix launch is occurring in June 2011, all previous InnerPass subscribers are being moved into Group Mix. Groups, members and files are carried over to their Group Mix account. In fact, you can see under the Shared Documents tab shown above that there are files from an InnerPass demonstration in 2009. While their current configurations and content are maintained, users can now benefit from the new User Interface.

What Skype support exists?

While the former InnerPass service provided support for calling into a conference call via Skype or the PSTN, InnerPass is awaiting the launch of SkypeKit services in order to incorporate direct Skype access to Group Mix conference calls. In the meantime members can call into any of the Group Mix numbers in over 25 countries via SkypeOut using either a Skype Calling Plan subscription or Skype Credit.

Pricing:

Group Mix is priced at $7.95 per month or $79.95 per year. As an introductory, time limited offer, purchase of a Group Mix annual subscription will allow one additional subscription to be provided free to a person designated by the subscriber. Groups can comprise up to 100 participants and the Host can have an unlimited number of subscriptions. Previous subscribers are grand-fathered at the lower of their current rate or the new subscription price.

Inner Meeting is priced at $4.95 per month and supports up to ten participants in a desktop sharing session; only the host needs a subscription. Should, during a session, the host require an upgrade to Group Mix to increase the number of participants, an “in session” opportunity is provided to perform the upgrade without interrupting the session.

There is a “Free” option for Inner Meeting: a one-to-one desktop sharing session for up to 30 minutes with an unlimited number of sessions. Effectively this is a trial option that allows you to experience the user interface/menus.

Bottom line: Group Mix by InnerPass is a rich tool for multi-party sharing and conferencing across a business team or special interest group while overcoming geographical barriers. It’s secure, private, ad hoc and persistent with the content (whether files or chat sessions). Its user interface is easy to learn and follow.

While currently it lacks the Group Chat function, the InnerPass team has provided a migration path from its previous client-based offering that has kept almost all the features (and all the content) while providing a new more user friendly interface that makes all the information and communications features more readily accessible.

Tip: With the introduction of App Tabs in Firefox 5.0, Group Mix can easily be accessed from the Firefox tab bar while using a minimum of bar real estate by “pinning the tab” to the left end of the tab bar.

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