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The SMB collaboration market is in something of a conundrum. Multiple players are targeting this segment, but with vastly different solutions. These solutions differ not just at the features/functionality level, but at the conceptual level.



This is undoubtedly an era of change. A number of fundamental interacting forces are at play which have ensured everything is in gray. They are as follows:

  1. The emergence of the SaaS model, and the benefits it brings -- no hardware/software maintenance hassle, universal access, mobile access, end user rather than IT orientation.
  2. The comeuppance of "social technologies" which empower end users to meet, connect, communicate, comment, tag, vote, or collaborate through the Internet and form communities. This leads to phenomena like "crowdsourcing" which enables companies to tap on the "wisdom of the crowd."
  3. Organizational structure and management theory are undergoing evolution due to widely available benefits of the Internet and Internet technologies. Those who have studied management will remember cutting edge theories like "the virtual organization" or the "boundaryless" organization which are possible because of current technology. The trend is undoubtedly towards democratic systems and emergent (bottom up) rather than imposed (top down) structures.

I will try to conceptualize the different solutions as a continuum (although they may not fit perfectly in this conceptual framework), and discuss solutions from one end to the other.

Freeform solutions

On one end of the spectrum are "freeform" solutions, which will have nothing to do with organizational structure at all. The assumption is, groups of people just need to get together for a task, finish the task, and move their respective ways. The emphasis is on highly intuitive, powerful, and simple tools, which all group members can access from anywhere to get work done.

One exponent of this approach is Adobe's Acrobat.com. Acrobat.com is a highly visually appealing online solution that allows users to share and collaborate on documents and PDF files. It contains tools for purely web based collaboration on documents (Buzzword), presentations and spreadsheets as well as a tool for online meetings (ConnectNow).

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