These online tools improve workgroup interactions, reduce email traffic and track the team's progress.
If you are trying to have more effective team communications, you are probably looking at products or services that go by names like "social CRMs" or "team engagement tracking apps." Regardless of what they are called, these apps can connect to a variety of social networks and email accounts and make it easier to manage your communications, track what your team has posted, understand what other team members are working on and improve workflows and productivity by avoiding interruptions or massive amounts of email.
I tried out two of these tools, Peak and Tibbr. Both are browser-based: Tibbr also has mobile and desktop clients.
The two services have somewhat different takes on how they work: Tibbr can be used to both monitor and post to various linked networks; Peak is read-only. Both have a variety of analytics to give you a better picture of how you use your various networks. The two also differ as to which networks they connect to, with Tibbr offering more options.
There are other tools that can consolidate your personal social networks, such as Nimble, the OX App Suite, Yammer (which has been purchased by Microsoft and is somewhat integrated into Office 365) and Salesforce Chatter. And if you want something to track just your social media activities on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, there are a variety of tools available, such as Hootsuite and TweetDeck.
The difference is that both Peak and Tibbr go beyond the standard social media networks and connect to business-related networks such as GitHub and Google Drive. They also are designed for teams to use, rather than just individuals who want to retweet the same message on a particular schedule.
I tested the two tools with several users on a small network with Macs, PCs and an iPhone and with a number of different browsers including recent versions of Chrome, Firefox and Internet Explorer.
Think of Peak as a content aggregator, or a dashboard that shows you what is happening with your various team members across their networks. You don't post anything directly from within the service; it pulls content from various services including Basecamp, Dropbox, GitHub, Gmail, Google Drive, Harvest (a time-tracking service) and Trello. It summarizes activities from these services in several different ways and (if you have admin rights) shows you who is active, when and on which particular service.
The idea is to minimize interruptions in your workflow by having everything in one place. It has been available since April.
When you first create a team, you are assigned a specific host name, such as strom.usepeak.com. The first member of the team has admin rights and can invite others to join. You can add anyone to your group, whether they are part of your corporate domain or not. Non-administrative members all have the same access level to the tool.
Peak doesn't have any mobile apps; it's available only via a Web browser. I didn't have any issues using a variety of the more recent browser versions on both Macs and Windows systems.
It has a simple screen that is divided into two parts: a left-hand menu where you can choose activities or people that are part of your workgroup and the main activity feed on the right.
One menu choice is the configuration option. When you set up the product the first time, this is where you connect to your services and specify your login credentials. With some of the services, once you are authenticated, you can select particular items (such as Dropbox folders, or projects from Basecamp or GitHub) that you can follow in your activities feed. Each team member can decide which services they want to connect their Peak accounts to and which ones to leave alone.
For example, some users may not want to follow their Dropbox account, because they use it for private matters, while others may want to include it because it is where they keep their business-related files. This level of personalization is very handy, although it could be initially confusing to new users.
The activity stream is displayed in chronological order with the most recent events first. You have three different display options: all events, grouped by service (such as all GitHub activity) or grouped by a specific member of the team. You can filter out activities by particular service if these get too numerous, or if you just want to focus on one or two of them -- so, for example, if you need to focus on a particular Gmail conversation, you can temporarily filter out your Gibhub feed.
As a result, the information can be very insightful for a work team: You can see who is working on which Dropbox files, who is occupied in meetings (via Google Calendar) and who is updating GitHub code. You can see when these activities happened, although I found that the responsiveness varied: It sometimes happened nearly in real time and sometimes a day later, depending on how fluid the connection process was between Peak and the service involved.
Users with admin rights to Peak will also have an "Insights" menu option on their left-hand bar. This brings up a series of activity graphs that show you what time of day your various team members are posting content to the various linked services. You can see the most popular work times during the day, the most active days of the past month, and the aggregate amount of hours per team that they were working. (If that sounds somewhat intrusive, this is why it is restricted to admin users.)
I came across several small bugs that were annoying, and an indication of the relative immaturity of the product. For example, I sometimes had to refresh my browser to get the latest activity updates, and sometimes the browser would automatically refresh itself. When I tried to connect to my Basecamp account, Peak didn't offer any granularity by project -- I could only track everything in the account.
By the way, be aware: If no other members are posting content at a particular time, you get a somewhat alarming notification message on the left-hand column that says, "No other members are using Peak." The company may want to tweak that one a bit.
One advantage to Peak is its pricing: Peak is free for the first month and its prices are clearly specified on its website, something that other companies may want to take note of. It starts at roughly $10 a month per person, although there are different price tiers depending on the size of your workgroup, with lower rates for larger groups.
Peak is a great tool to provide usage insights into your various connected networks and a useful way to cut down on emails to provide better collaboration.
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