How to get reporters' attention at Web 2.0 Expo

NEW YORK--In the press room at the Web 2.0 Expo at the Jacob Javits Convention Center here, there are a ton of fliers, stickers, and press kits lying around for us reporters and bloggers to peruse.

It's kind of hard for any one of them to stand out. Unless you're like collaboration software start-up Octopz, which we reviewed last year.

The company's strategy: Leave out some bright turquoise-and-green stuffed octopi, free for the taking. No corny company logos, no attached pitch, just a cute stuffed sea creature with a flash drive press kit tied around its … Read more

Review Basics: Free Web-based collaboration

Review Basics is a collaborative workspace for small teams and businesses. It runs right in your browser, and offers a fairly simple and straightforward way for others to share and leave feedback on photos, video files, and office documents. The interface runs entirely in Flash, so there are no special extensions to download, or programs that need to be installed on your computer. Just start up a workspace and go.

Review Basics works with a variety of common office document standards like Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and PDF. It also can handle uploading an entire zipped folder, so if you get a zipped attachment in an e-mail, you can upload it straight to the service without having to unpack it and send files one at a time. Review Basics also handles videos, although they have to be in the .FLV Flash format, which despite its popularity on the Internet, isn't a consumer-friendly standard compared to .MOV and .AVI. Files are capped off at 25MB apiece, so if you're working with any video clip over a minute or two, it's likely to be too large.

Annotating media is fairly simple. Users get five different tools to mark what's on the screen: boxes, arrows, a highlighter, call-outs, and emoticons. There is no drawing tool, which is one thing I enjoy and make use of on other collaborative workspace services like ConceptShare [hands-on] and Octopz [hands-on]. I think at a basic level it makes things feel familiar, like using a pen. There are still boxes which can be resized and color coded, but for irregularly shaped elements, you're out of luck.

To separate which feedback is being displayed, you can toggle each person's edits on and off. It's a lot like PhotoShop when you show or hide layers, and useful when you have more than two or three people working on a piece of media at a time, as things tend to get crowded.

Review Basics is very versatile for a free app, but it's missing a few things I think would make it far more competitive in this space. I'd like a way to leave audio or video notes. Some people (like me) find it easier to hit a record button, say something and move on, instead of writing it out. I'd also like to see live chat or live video conferencing, something that can take telephones out of the equation for both businesses and customers. The service is planning on moving to a paid model in the future, adding these things would certainly put it in the realm of some of the other services charging monthly fees.

The team has put together a series of hands-on demos you can play with to get a feel for the service. [More screens after the break.]

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Top 5 from Web 2.0 Expo

The first Web 2.0 Expo is behind us, and it was a good show. In addition to dozens of interesting panels (including, if I do say so, mine), there were about 115 companies presenting on a crowded expo show floor, and six interesting company presentations during the "Launchpad" sessions that ran on Monday and Tuesday.

With Webware.com's Josh Lowensohn and News.com's Erica Ogg, we picked our Top 5 Web 2.0 services from the conference. They are:

Tellme, which has a new downloadable app for getting useful 411-like info on your mobile phone. ( … Read more

Sea creature meets collaboration tool: Octopz

Octopz (pronounced 'Octopus') is a Web-based, online collaboration tool for small groups. It's one of the many companies presenting at next week's Web 2.0 Expo here in San Francisco, and is making its public launch on Monday.

Octopz runs in its own browser window and uses Adobe Flash to mix a whiteboard space with live text, voice, and video chat. The workspace has an area to upload and share files with other group members. Each uploaded file gets its own folder, which houses any edits made by group members. For example, if you're making notes on a digital photograph, other members can create a copy of that photo and add their own notes. Each version is neatly stacked underneath the original. All group edits are saved and stored, and can be shared and edited later for asynchronous collaboration.

Things get a little tricky with Octopz's multiuser controls. Anyone can grab control of the workspace at any time, which in testing led to some minor power struggles. There's also not a way to keep track of which group member made which edits, either with a history or differentiating colors per each user. Despite these issues, Octopz handled a four-person conference from three different geographical locations smoothly.

Where Octopz excels is its simplicity. It's incredibly easy to pick up and use. It reminds me a lot of Acrobat Connect, a product Adobe launched in January, although sans screen sharing.

Octopz comes in at $99 per month per license, which is twice the cost of the standard version of Adobe Connect. However unlike Acrobat Connect, Octopz lets businesses create an unlimited amount of rooms and users, something you don't even get with Adobe's professional level of Acrobat Connect service.

See also: Vyew, Conceptshare, and Webex for Web-based collaborative tools.

Update: Fixed pricing clarification regarding comparison to Acrobat Connect. Also, Octopz was picked as one of our Top 5 favorites from the Web 2.0 Expo earlier this month.

For more screenshots of Octopz in action, keep reading.

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