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Sep 22 2009

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A first look in the Incite Toolbox

In June (as I posted), I met Sean Kaye and Michael Baker of Australia-based construction collaboration vendor Incite. We talked about Incite’s new project collaboration tool and platform, Incite Keystone, amid a wide-ranging chat about collaboration, file-sharing, social media and other topics, and we’ve stayed in contact ever since, mainly through Twitter but also through blogs and the occasional email.*

Toolbox webpageYesterday, I received a Tweet from Michael inviting me to sign up to use what I think is best described as an early or pre-Beta version of Incite’s new cloud-based file-sharing platform, Incite Toolbox (which he also blogged about yesterday).

Sean has also been writing about Incite Toolbox today on the Incite blog (linking to my preceding post about Asite and social media) and describes how Michael and his team have baked the social media concept of “the stream” into the product. For the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) sector, he argues that social media tools need to be relevant to projects and integrated into the tools provided to the AEC industry (he cites the example of the Blackberry and portable email).

Twitter, but with file-sharing?

I’ve experimented with the browser-based version of Toolbox (I had to switch away from my usual Flock browser to view the interface properly, but it worked perfectly in my second choice Google Chrome). Sign-up was simple, with only the most basic details required, followed by receipt of an email activation link. The user interface is quite intuitive, and the basic functionality – even allowing for the application’s pre-Beta status – is impressively straightforward to use. Within seconds, I could invite people to join my project and start to upload content, send messages and to tag.

As well as “the stream” (labelled ‘Feeds’), the application uses tagging to identify the importance of content to each team member and to the project as a whole. As you upload content, write updates or comment on other people’s messages, you can tag your contributions, immediately linking them to other messages, files, images, etc. Clicking on one of the tags (currently displayed to the right) immediately displays all the contributions sharing that tag in the ‘Feeds’ space.

Upon upload, your updates are immediately available to other users in your project network in real-time, with the most recent updates at the top – just as you might view one’s Twitter feed. Rather than send an open update visible to all project members, you can also send a direct message (also a la Twitter).

Small icons in the ‘Feed’ space allow you to choose different views of the content (currently: all, messages with or without attachments, images or pictures direct messages), but if that doesn’t help you find things the Toolbox search engine searches and prioritises results as you type into the search box, delivering almost instantaneous results.

Files can potentially be uploaded to Toolbox in four ways, via:

  1. the browser-based solution
  2. a desktop application
  3. a (forthcoming) Toolbox client for the iPhone, and
  4. by email – send correspondence and files to an Incite Toolbox email address where they are immediately uploaded to Toolbox.

You can also set the system so that you get SMS email confirmations of messages (I quickly disabled this once I saw how every message was being echoed to my email inbox); Twitter integration appears to be in the offing too (invaluable for me – as I increasingly look at Twitter before I browse email).

On charging, Incite says:

Seriously scalable Toolbox is not charged on how many projects or users you have. It’s all about the data you store. A project only pays for the number of gigabytes consumed, allowing a project to grow and contract rapidly.

My initial reaction

Having talked about various low-cost or simple online AEC file-sharing applications recently (Woobius, drop.io, and yet-to-launch e-grou, among others), Incite Toolbox is, I think, quite different.

For a start, the interface isn’t just a list of documents and drawings; “the stream” gives you a sequenced flow of content from your project members and if the stream becomes a flood you can:

  1. apply the feed filters to sieve out the types of content you’re seeking,
  2. use tags to hook out just the items you need (assuming that everything has been accurately and appropriately tagged, of course – Michael’s blog post links to a YouTube video that includes batch upload and tagging combined),
  3. use the incredibly rapid search tool, and/or
  4. combine any of items 1 to 3.

Like Woobius, this product also starts from an AEC mindset. It is not a generic file-sharing application that has been re-purposed for AEC use; it has been developed by people who’s previous experience has been focused on applications for the AEC market.

As a social media enthusiast, I like the focus on creating a real-time “stream of (project) consciousness”, augmenting status updates with files – and vice versa. Incite appear to have ambitious plans for Toolbox, and if it can offer collaborative features of the kind that are being offered by rival products (with drop.io, for example, I talked about chat, presentation and conference calling facilities; Kalexo – see post – is also competing in a similar fields) – particularly if these also have strong social media functionality – then it will be a compelling mix. This combination might also herald much wider adoption of Web 2.0 by AEC project team professionals who have hitherto been largely reliant upon non-Web 2.0 tools due to the lack of social functionality in most construction collaboration platforms.

Inevitably, there are some glitches in the functionality and layout/navigation of this early stage application, but I will be returning for a more detailed look as the product is further developed. Also, the more I’ve thought about the product, the more I can see it being used for non-AEC purposes. There will be numerous B2B scenarios where teams need to share data quickly with fellow project team members; Incite Toolbox isn’t just for construction projects – it has potential for any social collaboration project.

[* Disclosure: I met Incite’s Sean Kaye and Michael Baker in June (Incite paid for lunch). I have also since undertaken some paid consultancy work for Incite.]

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2009/09/a-first-look-in-the-incite-toolbox/

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