Team communication tools these days are a dime a dozen. Just in Finland alone, you could list Ninchat, Flowdock, INC, and a few others that don’t fit in the rule of three. We’ve tested and tried them all, and genuinely have like them for the unique problems they solve, but it’s so easy to fall back on Skype chat for little messages here and there.
Now a team of ex-Skype employees in Estonia have launched Fleep, a new team communication tool that attempts to innovate where Skype chat and others haven’t. This lack of Skype’s innovation is an issue that a few have pointed out as Skype turned 10 years old last week – not much new has been brought to the product since Microsoft purchased it from eBay for $8.5 Billion in 2011.
Fleep CEO Henn Ruukel shares some of this sentiment with messaging, drawing from his 7 years at Skype as Director of Site Operations. “For Skype text messaging was not a priority. [At Skype] we wanted an excellent video calling experience, but the messaging features were always secondary, so we saw the potential and thought we could build something better.”
The way the product works, is that you have a familiar text chat, somewhat like Skype or IRC. There are no presence indicators, so users don’t feel pressured to respond right away, but the product is somewhere between something persistent, like instant messaging, while also encouraging users to write longer messages, like email.
Speaking of email, they designed Fleep to be somewhat frictionless for people you’re unsure are using Fleep – you can just start a new Fleep chat with a contact’s email address, and the conversation will pop up in their email, as well as Fleep if they have it.
A seemingly minor but important innovation Ruukel is proud to show off is the ability to pin out important messages in the chat, so they appear in a side bar. One problem of sending everything back and forth in Skype is that if you need your co-worker’s date of birth to book a flight, or if you agree on a meeting at some time, there isn’t a way to save it for later, or make it more visible for other participants in the chat that might not go through the whole conversation. Pinning it out then makes it very visible, and editable by all participants, so that others can add additional information or discuss.
Another methodology that Fleep is using is dividing conversations by topics, rather than users. So going back to Skype chat, if you want to have a group conversation you need to add specific users, and then go from there. Fleep instead encourages starting chats on discussions, instead, so that you can divide conversations more suitable for the workplace. “So for ourselves at Fleep, we have nine people but around 20 persistent conversations, such as general product, web bugs, iPhone bugs, and so on. When you define the topic this enables you to prioritize what to look and where to look,” says Ruukel.
A thing I really liked about INC, the team communication tool by the Kippt guys, is their standalone app that provides notifications and makes it easy to tab over to. Ruukel says that rather than building a standalone app first, they’ll probably be releasing a notifier app that will let you know when you have received a message, although a full standalone is not out of the question. In the meantime, users can always use a tool like Fluid on mac, which puts a browser window in its own wrapper, which can sit in the doc. As a side note, I’ve been looking for a tool like this for a long time to put WordPress into, so I’m happy Ruukel brought it up. I think Windows users can use Application Shortcuts, which is built in. Additionally, Fleep offers a iPhone app for users to stay connected when out and about.
So in total, the world didn’t think it needed another team communication tool, but there’s a reason they keep getting developed – no one has absolutely nailed it yet. Fleep’s low friction through email and pinning of messages just might make it a communication tool that sticks around.