I recently had the opportunity to demo a tool used to bridge the gap with remote teams. The tool, Sococo, provides a virtual office where people can collaborate in a more traditional office environment. Objects such as offices, departments, and conference rooms are built into the tool to allow for easy collaboration. Just like in real life you can listen and talk to colleagues as well as message them and call them on the phone. In addition, screen sharing, white-boarding, and dash-boarding are all possible. In my mind this tool is the evolution of tools such as Skype, enriching the communication experience. For those of you who have not seen the tool, my first impression was that I was playing The Sims at work. The only real differences were the avatar being a circle with items added to it based on how you were connected (e.g. headphone, microphone, and eyes) and that you could only interact with the environment and not really change it.
After using the tool for several months I formed some opinions that I thought might be helpful for others considering the tool. The information that follows is based on my opinions and what I heard from others who have tried the tool.
NOTE: This review was written about 6 months ago so some of the issues highlighted may have been addressed.
- Easy to setup and trivial to use – simply install the application and log in to view the virtual workspace. Clicking on any name or double clicking in any area will navigate you as expected. Figuring out how to use the phone and share your screen is just as easy.
- Easy to “see” where people are and get an idea of who is available – emoticons have symbols such headphones, microphones, and eyes to symbolize what a user is doing. Much easier to reach people.
- Easy to enable/disable talk without the application being in focus
- The tool is fun to use, which is important for adoption and use.
- The closest all-in-one collaboration tool available today
- [FIX-P1] No mobile version – Web 2.0 is over and mobile is where it is at. Typically in a remote work environment employees travel on a regular basis. With no available mobile version things such as screen sharing on a conference call is not possible. This means you still need some other tool like Webex.
- [FIX-P1] Screen sharing does not work well – The screen by default is often hard to read and zooming in requires you to manually move around to see what is going on. This is not an issue in tools like Skype (does have former issue, but not latter) and Webex.
- Does not leverage the virtual possibilities – the tool focuses too much on resembling the physical world. While it is nice to have a virtual environment that visually represents what you would expect in a physical environment (e.g. having water bubblers and microphones in the conference room) it is also important to expand and think out of the box.
- [FIX-P1] Example: long-term group collaboration. Say you have a projects that X number of employees from Y number of departments need to work on. How can you share ideas, track changes, and communicate effectively? In Sococo you could set up a meeting every time, but that does not allow for real-time and dynamic collaboration. You could all sit in the same room constantly, but employees are likely working on multiple projects and you can only be in one room at a time. You could use a Wiki, email, and meetings whenever necessary, but this approach has at least two flaws. First, it requires more tools outside of Sococo and second email should not be used to hold a chat session. In Skype you can have multiple group chats going on at the same time. This is a feature Sococo desperately needs if it wants to become an all-in-one tool.
- [FIX-P2] Example: Calendar integration for at least two reasons. One, to add out of office messages to the virtual office so people know where you are and two to remind you of meetings especially in Sococo and automatically invite you to the appropriate conference room.
- [FIX-P2] No ability to record – calls, voice, and shared screen sessions cannot be recorded. This limits the ability to share data especially for mobile users or people who could not attend meetings. Messages do have a scroll back, but it seems to be limited on how far back it goes and does not appear to be customizable.
- Application is buggy – To be fair, every collaboration tools has bugs (Skype has plenty).
- [FIX-P2] Example: Often messages do not pop up or do but are greyed out as though it was sent in the past (I fixed this issue on the Mac using the Growl application)
- [FIX-P3] Example: Using the phone often leads to the application crashing (simple restart gets you back going).
- Application requires screen space – screen space is valuable and while many people have two monitors today they do not have the real estate available for another application to consume.
- Money – though not an issue for large companies I can foresee it being an issue for others especially giving the open source solutions available today (though none of them really have an all-in-one solution like Sococo).
- Customer focus – the example I would use is Facebook. Yes, Facebook is a social tool used by millions of people, but the Facebook customer is actually marketers looking to use the data and connections on Facebook to make money. With Sococo I fear there is a similar effect. While employees can collaborate and work it is management who benefits from knowing who is online, what people/groups collaborate, and likely many other metrics.
- Requires headphones – so does every other collaboration tool (e.g. Skype)
- No games – all work and no play makes for a dull work day! With the focus on physical environments you would think some sort of gaming would be possible in the virtual world. At the same time I understand why you may not want games 🙂
I think Sococo is an innovative idea to a complicated problem. The product has a long way to go in terms of features and roadmap, but its foundation is solid and well conceived. While I included a rather long list of cons I do like the tool and think it has a lot of potential. One fear I have of using Sococo permanently is that it is yet another tool that has to be managed and run. For example, IRC is often used for written communication, Skype is used to allow verbal communication, and now Sococo would also be added. Having businesses move to Sococo would be difficult given some key aspects from Sococo are missing (e.g. mobile and real-time collaboration mentioned above). I am really interested to see how this tool evolves and if it catches on. Good luck Sococo!
© 2013, Steve Flanders. All rights reserved.