From an architectural view , the differences lie in approach. Where as, Google is tacking on real time or near real time collaboration to their existing messaging infrastructure in the form of Google Wave; Numeroom ties a set of collaboration functions into a secure package that is useful to both individual users AND to businesses.
I designed it noticing the trend in the proliferating collaboration options about 3 years ago. Web 2.0 technology (XmlHttpRequest object to the clued in) enabled real time experiences that matched previous stand alone software but enabled user interaction that wasn't possible using decentralized stand alone software. The emergence of platforms as the new buzzword and engine behind a given service gave rise to many collaboration options. Meebo, Userplane, Campfire, Parachat, MeGlobe, LivePerson , Provide Support...etc. I also saw the services moving toward offering specific options but not others due to inherent strengths and weaknesses in the chosen underlying platforms and due to business choices of the management teams for the companies. Case in point:
Meebo - Goal, web based group chat and IM, link sharing to make money from ad revenue.
Userplane - Goal, web based group chat and IM, flash video and audio to make money from ad revenue and through dedicated installations and integrations.
Campfire - Goal, secure web based group chat and collaborative file sharing for small business collaboration, integrates with other 37Signals products like BaseCamp for project management but why are their two products for this?
MeGlobe - Goal, free ad supported attempt at real time translated chat.
ProvideSupport - Goal, Dedicated customer service dashboard for small businesses to enable customer support on their live web pages using a dispersed team of agents.
This snapshot of providers is only a small set of what is out there, each providing certain collaboration features but not others. As a proof of concept to the http://www.apriority.biz/aesplash.html AgilEntity platform (which I am keeping proprietary rather than open source unlike all the other platforms) I decided that numeroom.com should answer all the service options listed above and add what is missing in all of them. Namely the real time following and notification that makes Facebook and microblogging services like Twitter so addictive and useful. Adding this functionality also opened up a new landscape of potential metrics with regards to the discussions that are occurring inside chat rooms and how those discussions evolve. The "following" features to which I refer are:
- Public,Private, Inactive Rooms -- Users can control who sees their room, public rooms are open to the world, private rooms open to invitation (email, ip, username) and inactive rooms (invisible to numeroom directory) open to contacts only when a pass is enabled.
- "Jump To" connections -- Browse the global conference hall categories, find rooms of interest and generate a "jump to" link to the room instantly. Subsequently the room is available for access in a jump to section of the contacts display area.
- dynamic categories -- Unlike all over chat services that force you to stay in a particular category once it is created, numerooms can be easily switched from one category to the next and the room is automatically then available for searches in the new category.
- dynamic file sharing -- Files can be dropped into rooms, pulled off rooms and added as attachments to offline mail (called IMail on numeroom) and TimeLine feed notifications. Files can even be sent directly to the tables of users that allow this T2TFT: Table to Table file transfers.
- broadcasting -- The jump to , file adding and room category shifting actions can trigger broadcasts to all the contacts of the room owner. The contacts can selectively choose to recieve these messages in the form of notification emails enabling a new form of real time awareness to how people are collaborating that is user controlled.
- tuning -- Since broadcasting can enable the creation of many events for actions performed by contacts, tuning allows specific contacts to be "listened" to, options exist to enable this "tune set" while online or offline. Much like the third party applications provided by Twitter, tune sets allow Users to filter the broadcasts they recieve to only recieve the ones most salient to their collaboration needs at the time.
These 5 abilities open a new paradigm in real time collaboration that I alway felt was missing and that enables a brand new ability to mine the interactions of users in real time. Where Twitter allows filtering of the trends occuring in the Zeitgeist from the end users perspective, the "following" capabilities of numeroom enable trends in the zeitgeist to be monitored both by the end users as they desire and as well by the Numeroom ecosystem itself. For example, in classic chat room services (all those mentioned in the listing above and all the previous stand alone installed versions) the only way to know where a friend who leaves a room has gone was to ask them (if they were on your buddy list) often as has been discovered in Facebook and Twitter, people want to anonymously follow their friends through a content exploration. They do this by tuning into what those friends are posting about at any given moment (say using Twitter and the various third party filtering tools) , the same is possible on Facebook by adjustement of ones Wall feed, however a similar function was never added to real time chat until numeroom.com. The main difficulty lay in architecture, following is a "chirp" intensive function that many architectures can not handle at scale. The AgilEntity platform that numeroom.com is built on was designed for geographic scale, enabling distributed operation of running nodes making following a reality for the already chirp heavy real time collaboration function.
So where Google Wave allows the flowering of conversations around particular topics of interest to small groups of interacting individuals related by email (all on googles gmail service at first) Numeroom starts with conversation and then reveals an ability for users to discover and follow other individuals without constraint to email address today. The final and probably the biggest difference between the two however lies in how the Numeroom solution enabled by the underlying AgilEntity platform, enables the management of any number of Numeroom ecosystems for licensing by small to medium sized businesses. Each licensed portal operates as its own universe of Numeroom functions, separate from the commercial site. Thus a business can license one of these options and immediately:
- create its own Users
- Delegate permissions to created users or up-level to the Numeroom system.
- manage their interactions in accordance with custom designed workflow tools
- manage and create their own numerooms
- brand their site portal
- make their portal public or private to the internet
- create its own categories
- manage security for portal access such as the use of Captcha's and enabling automatic registration.
- Manage Site specific logs and system data.
- Monitor changes to the lifecycle of any managed entity: Users, categories, workflows..etc. through the use of real time notifications.
Thus, the numeroom ecosystem reveals itself to be designed much like a series of nested dolls, with self similar symmetry at all scales. Exposing this collaboration infrastructure to businesses allows them to keep the metrics gathered over the collaboration interactions occuring in their business private, and that level of privacy to collaboration interactions is the exact opposite of what Google wants by making Google Wave available late this year. They rely on the data and metrics gathered so that they can then better target advertisements for their other properties.
Thus a key difference in philosophy lies in the fact that Google banks on the open access to user data and interaction metrics for all Users, Numeroom only does it for the free and individual plan licensing Users of the service allowing Users that license the secure site plan options to retain sole knowledge of the following metrics of their private business.