Octopz grabs on to Web collaboration

Social network targets creative professionals by emphasizing visual effects

Nobody's sure exactly how it is that social networks like MySpace and Facebook are really going to make money for their corporate masters. But one thing people have figured out is that online social networks are great mediums for people to share ideas and collaborate. Now one startup, Octopz, is hoping to apply that logic to the topsy-turvy community of creative professionals. In the process, the company is making a splash in the ocean of Internet collaboration hopefuls.

The Toronto-based company, founded by CEO Barry Fogarty and Paul Nykamp, CTO, provides online collaboration tools for creative professionals. The platform has features for working with various data types: Microsoft Word documents and PowerPoint presentations as well as images, videos, audio, and Flash files. Collaborators can mark up content and even view each other through Webcams, with their faces appearing on the Octopz screen.

"We see it as the ideal solution for creative professionals working with rich media. We make advanced, on-demand collaboration simple and effective," Fogarty says, who has a background in photography and 3D imaging.

Fogarty says the Octopz application originally was developed for his own use with agencies and clients. "Once we started to use it with our clients, they got interested," and asked to license it, says Fogarty, who previously owned a company called Diginiche, which produced high-end interactive images.

Hosted at a site in Texas, the Octopz application was released in beta last year and the general release was unveiled at the Web 2.0 Expo 2007 conference in San Francisco last month.

Since then, Octopz has reached out to designers and producers, photographers, videographers, advertisers, and even landscape architects, who often must collaborate with teams spread over the globe.

Those who have used it say the platform has numerous benefits.

"We find that our clients like the flexibility it brings to the workflow process," says Aldo Cundari, chairman and CEO of Cundari Group Ltd., an advertising agency in Toronto. "We have also seen increase in productivity and a reduction in project cost by removing travel and the hours required [when] constantly chasing [a] client for input and approvals."

The application supports the iterative way that creative professionals work, allowing them to view and mark up a range of document types synchronously or asynchronously, Cundari says.

"I could upload a file and you and I would be looking at it and at any point I could grab it and I could draw on it," Fogarty says. "You would see my markup in real time."

Text messaging and VoIP are integrated into the application, which requires just a Flash application to be installed on desktops. In addition to Flash, the Octopz application leverages PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor) scripting.

Octopz differs from the more well-known WebEx Web conferencing system in that Octopz offers more two-way interactivity and is cross-platform, running on Macs, PCs and Linux, Fogarty says.

Asked about Microsoft's recently detailed competitor to Flash, Silverlight, Fogarty notes Flash is available now, unlike Silverlight, which is in a preliminary stage of release.

"We're aware of [Silverlight] and very curious about it," Fogarty says. Octopz also is following Adobe's planned Apollo technology, for running rich Web content offline.

Octopz is offered to small businesses at a cost of $99 per month for each concurrent "room," with a room being a collection of documents. The small-business version allows users to use only a single room at a time. A planned enterprise-level version still in development removes this limitation.

The enterprise product also can offer dedicated servers and integrate with a customers' VPN when a user is working on highly confidential material.