Why not infuse the organic simplicity of MySpace-like social networking into the enterprise knowledge management world? That was the question Andy McLoughlin and Alastair Mitchell posed to one another a year ago. Their answer was huddle.net, a burgeoning Web-based project collaboration solution.
Tapping their own funds and the development chops of application development firm Neoworks, the two London friends merged McLoughlin's extensive knowledge management know-how as a technical consultant to the insurance industry with Mitchell's insight into the collaboration needs of advertising and retail companies.
The .Net-based cross-platform application, which was piloted in November and launched formally in March, allows virtual, disparate teams to post and edit documents, discuss ideas, and assign tasks in a unified Web-based project management environment. Through the central dashboard, users can view the progress of their various projects, take actions, and ascertain the online status of collaborators. Moreover, individuals can initiate new projects, inviting other huddle subscribers to collaborate, with complete access control. This networking effect is the true differentiating aspect of huddle, according to McLoughlin.
"This is where we're really beginning to see the huddle network grow," McLoughlin says. "With something like Microsoft SharePoint or Basecamp, which are really hosted extranets, it's not real collaboration; it's not being able to work with anyone you want."
McLoughlin points to Firefly Tonics, a soft-drink manufacturer that has adopted huddle as its primary collaboration solution. The design agency responsible for creating the soft drink labels now subscribes to the huddle service, as do Firefly's distributors and myriad other companies the manufacturer works with to deliver its product.
The viral nature of huddle.net adoption gives the service an expanding client base that includes large legal, PR, and advertising firms, on down to sports teams, church groups, and individual freelancers.
Huddle has six developers at its London headquarters, and leans on Neoworks' eight member development team in London and a four-person development team in Slovakia to deliver features quickly and at low cost.
The huddle application is offered with varying grades of service from free (for five users up) to a customizable enterprise-level package that includes on-site training and support. Huddle built the application with growth in mind, positioning load balancing on the front end and database clustering on the back end. Huddle.net also does away with session states on its servers, making it more than ready for an onslaught of users.
McLoughlin tips his cap to Salesforce.com for softening enterprises to the Web as a service-delivery platform. Like Salesforce, huddle.net will be responsive to changing customer needs but less focused on a particular problem.
"What we're trying to do is build a tool that's useful for everybody, not one that's tied down to a particular industry or market," he said.
On top on the list of useful features is real time collaboration.