OpenTeams offers an interesting service that wants to reinvent the wiki. It’s designed to strengthen team collaboration and innovation while working on group projects, or as OpenTeams puts it, “initiatives”. Its interface is organized much like an email client so non-technical users immediately become familiar with the system and collaborate. But OpenTeams isn’t just limited to your usual wiki-style content. You can create outlines, attach files, discuss projects in message boards, and more.
When you sign up, OpenTeams assigns you to what they call a “space”, which is simply a group of other OpenTeams users. At default you may be assigned to two spaces: one being a “domain space” and another being an “invitation-only space”. When I signed up, OpenTeams created a space for every user that has solutionwatch.com in their email address. This allows me to collaborate with only users associated with Solution Watch. OpenTeams also assigned me to the space, “OpenTeams User Community,” which is an invitation-only space where every OpenTeams user can collaborate and share (or in its current state, test). I can also go ahead and create my own spaces and provide access to only the people I choose to invite.
Once you are in a space, OpenTeams allows you to collaborate with four main types of content: initiatives, cPages, briefings, and profiles. Strange naming, I know. I even ended up using the help section just to learn what each content type is for. As it turns out, they are just as they sound: initiatives are like folders used to keep groups of content related to a specific project together; a cPage is a basic collaborative page, or wiki page; briefings are groups of content similar to initiatives but organized in an outline form; and profiles are just user profiles that can be included in an initiative or outline.
To better understand how these content types come into play, let’s look over the interface. The interface is split into three panes. The first pane on the left is the OpenTeams navigator. The navigator provides a list of all initiatives and associated briefings, colleagues, and content tags. Each area of the navigator also allows you to associate documents to an initiative, colleague, or tag by simply dropping content on the respective area. The “List Viewer”, or middle pane, lists each relative content item and allows you to filter through all content on the site. The last pane, which is the content viewer, is where users can view a document, participate in threaded discussions, manage attachments, set tags, and even view the history of a document. It’s like a wiki, discussion board, and file manager in one.
OpenTeams allows you to add any of the four content types at any time and so getting started really depends on what you are wanting to accomplish. It’s flexible enough where you can just add content and later group the content into initiatives and outlines or the reverse for just about anything you want to share with your team. OpenTeams suggests you can even create internal blogs using initiatives with cPages, then using the List Viewer to sort the cPages by date. To get started, simply select a content type in the “fish-eye” menu at the top and create a new page. The content viewer will then minimize and a new window will appear that lets you fill in your page content and other metadata. You’ll notice OpenTeams also uses a rich text editor instead of the usual wiki markup making it easier for non-technical users to get in and collaborate.
One of my favorite features of OpenTeams is the briefing outline editor. If you have a group of cPages that you want to organize for your team, you can organize them in outline form with a briefing page making the content easier for everyone to grasp and view. OpenTeams explains that briefing pages can also be good for structuring content like slides in a presentations or listing sections in a table of contents. To use the briefing outline editor, just create a briefing and drag and drop pages into the content view. You can then indent each item you drop into the outline as needed. The editor also allows you to insert a “placeholder” item if you just want to add a simple one-liner. When the page is done, you can also drag it in an initiative folder and it will appear in the “Quick Nav Favorites” on the navigator pane.
Another great thing about OpenTeams is that every page you create gets its own discussion area, file manager, history overview, and tag cloud. What’s nice about this is that it lets you continue collaborating with users in a specific page without having to edit the original content of a page like you would a normal wiki. It also saves you from having to send emails to your team by instead using the discussion area. You can even add images and other files in a pages file manager keeping all information related to a page together.
The last thing I want to talk about is OpenTeams unique billing model. First off, OpenTeams is not free, but they do give you $42 dollars in credit to start out with. The way it works is simple, and at first it may sound pricey, but it really isn’t. OpenTeams charges 99 cents per user-login a day. So, if you were to login ten times in a given month, it would cost less than $10 dollars for that month. This way, you only get charged when you actually use the service. OpenTeams also caps the cost to $16/person a month. Additionally, if you were to stop paying for the service, you are still allowed to access your spaces, but you cannot add or edit the content.
OpenTeams is an impressive service, but is it better than a normal wiki? Yes and no. It really depends on what you need. OpenTeams’ high point is adding structure to a wiki. If you need to organize pages into folders, create outlines, track files, and work with a group of users, OpenTeams is definitely worth checking out. Otherwise, if you all you are looking for is a simple way to work collaboratively on documents, I’d say stick with a free service like Wikispaces or Google Docs.