Content Circles - Simple Enterprise Document Collabortion
Simplicity. It has a magic and a fragility all its own. Done wrong, it fails for not being enough, or for still being too much. Done right, we have explosive 140 char success stories like Twitter.

In what could either be a stroke of simple genius or just an attempt to strike whilst the economy quivers, Content Circles has stepped up to the plate with a super low cost (US$ 100 per year), server-free document collaboration and content management tool.

Perhaps they too see the magic. Let's have a look.

We covered Content Circles’ initial product release back in January, but we thought we'd take another look and get some more input from the software creators.

No Server, No Cry

Content Circles -- currently in release v1.0 -- is designed to help distributed teams work collaboratively and securely. The collaboration begins when a team member creates a group -- known as a Circle in Content Circles' nomenclature. Members invited into the Circle can access, modify, add and comment on documents which are then replicated and made accessible to all other group members.

By operating as a desktop application that uses P2P technology for automatic file synchronization/backup, the entire team can stay on the same page with Content Circles -- regardless of what time your sun sets.

All document versions and comments are retained and real-time status indicators let you know what's changed, what's waiting for you to review or what has been downloaded to your computer.

All content is passed in encrypted blocks and is never stored anywhere other than the member desktops. There is a central, Internet-accessible Content Circles server -- maintained by the company -- but customer documents are never stored on this server. It is only used to provide directory, policy, auditing and related services.

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Diagram -- Content Circles P2P Document Collaboration

There Ain't No One in My Circle

To handle the potential situation where all Circle members are offline and you need your Circle content updated, Content Circles offers a Store and Forward Service capability. This feature enhances the process for those who are concerned about having a core data repository and can be helpful if a work group is made up of a team that is constantly on the road.

The catch is that the computer running Content Circles in Store and Forward mode must always be on in order to update Circle members’ computers when they log in.

No Server, No Dice?

Of course, not having a server in the picture means there is little to zero IT dept involvement. Offline accessibility means no more last minute WiFi scavenging while you’re traveling. And the P2P replication means you will probably never lose your working documents. It all sounds so dreamy.

However, no server can also equal a red flag when we’re talking about backups or compliance and records management concerns. Content Circles offers a capability called Automatic Redundancy of any Circle in addition to the semi-convenient Store and Forward.

All content in a Circle is stored on the computer of any member of the Circle, so, if someone suffers from a computer crash, for example, or they have to wipe their disk or move to a new laptop, the user can log back into Content Circles from the new system and the files are automatically restored from the files of the other Circle members.

That’s all well and good, but it still relies on at least one person being online and up to date. So from what we see there’s still no real records management to speak of. Sure, there are audit trails that offer information such as when each document is checked out and modified, but going beyond this is going to take some hoop jumping lessons.

Without formal capabilities for archiving and records keeping, we can’t help but wonder, what happens to all of that information if the Circle goes belly-up? What happens if all the circle members depart for new and exciting circles? What then?

Franklin is a Fine Lookin’ Dude

With the data concerns noted it's still clear that in the right scenario -- and with your CIO's blessing -- the price looks mighty fine. And we imagine that our current economic situation will play its part in pushing a number of companies or teams towards this solution. After all, it’s a cool, light-weight concept and the company has a number of extra features in the works (more on that soon).

In addition to being aware of their shortcomings and working on filling the gaps, Content Circles also asserts that they’ve built connectors to SharePoint and additional document management solutions are reported to be announced shortly.

So if you’re willing to take a risk for the sake of convenience, check out the solution here. We think the most serious product weaknesses are likely to be sorted out in short order and that the simple collaboration model just might be palatable enough for your users to learn to love.

Is Content Circles the Twitter of enterprise document collaboration? We're not so sure enterprise software spreads viraly, and we have our suspicions that enterprise IT managers might just detest this thing. But with that said, there is a certain beauty to their stab at collaboration simplicity.