Huddle (news, site) calls itself the "#1 alternative to SharePoint in the cloud". It doesn't compare apples to apples with the entire SharePoint platform, but it does offer a user friendly alternative to SharePoint for enterprise collaboration and basic document management.
Cloud Based Collaboration From the UK
Huddle is a mid to large enterprise B2B collaboration and document management provider. It is the creation of UK co-founders Alastair Mitchell and Andy McLoughlin, both of whom have experience running large global teams and both of whom had bad experiences with SharePoint implementations. Their intent with Huddle was to create a social collaboration solution that would make it easier for people, and teams, to work together.
And no, I don't see Huddle as an apples to apples comparison to the SharePoint platform, because there is a lot of functionality within SharePoint that you don't get in Huddle. But if you are looking for a team and document collaboration solution that's easily to understand and use and you don't want it to be SharePoint, then Huddle is definitely worth a close look, especially if a hosted solution is your end goal.
I spent some time with Andy and Alastair reviewing and discussing Huddle, and then I took at little test drive on my own. Here is what I found:
Workspaces and Dashboards
Huddle is built on the concept of a workspace, which is likened to a team site in SharePoint. Inside your workspace you have a number of capabilities including whiteboards (wikis), task, files and folders, discussions, meetings and people.You can have many workspaces and you can turn features on and off, so everything is not required for your workspace.
Now what if you have multiple workspaces? One for each of your team projects and one for your division or department? It would be nice to have a way to quickly access those and to get a high level look at tasks, reminders and updates across all your workspaces right? This is where the Huddle dashboard comes in:
Huddle - My Dashboard
Note that you can view all your workspaces (both those you have created and those you have been invited to) in the left column of your dashboard or you can switch between your dashboard and your workspaces using the top left drop down.
The Dashboard is customizable. You can move widgets around by selecting it and moving it. This is thanks to an AJAX interface. You can also brand your workspace and dashboard, but you cannot change the basic layout of the interface.
To get a look at the features available in a workspace you can take your own tour using the free limited trial available on the Huddle website (that's where all of the screenshots in this article come from). This is Huddle out of the box, keep in mind there are other things you can do that you won't see there. We'll mention these shortly.
Whiteboards are wikis:
You get a version history and an audit trail for each whiteboard.
Again, very straightforward, tasks have a name, start & end date, status, assignment and notes. For those who have specific things they want to know for a task, you can add your own custom task fields in the Settings and once enabled, the field is available to all tasks.
Note the test task field at the end of the task above -- that's a custom field.
Files and Folders
You can upload and store your documents within a Huddle workspace. These can be organized by Folders that you define. There is a 2 GB file size for uploading, but you can upload multiple documents at once. Documents have full audit trails and version history.
Huddle Files & Folders
If you need to secure your files and folders you can define basic permissions such as Full, View and None. These can be assign per team or individual and you can cascade permissions down through all sub folders.
Along with the ability to upload documents, you can create an Office Word or Excel document within the Huddle workspace. Huddle includes online viewers (for Office documents and PDF) and editors for documents and spreadsheets.
As you can see in the following screenshot, a file can be locked out while you are editing it, and you have both a history of changes and versions of changes are stored within the system.
Huddle - Document properties and settings
You can also set basic approval and notification workflows for your documents:
Huddle - Document Workflow settings
The meetings feature in Huddle is nice. You can set up several types of meetings: a web conference or a teleconference, or it can be a notification of an in-person meeting. Huddle offers its own web conferencing or you can insert details for a third party solution. Likewise, Huddle also offers access to a teleconference line.
Meetings can be set to show up in the calendar or every person in your workspace or it can be by invite only.
A Huddle workspace also includes Discussions and a tab for viewing and inviting new people to be a part of the workspace. You invite people to join via email and select the team they should be a part of in the invitation.
Huddle is also multi-lingual supporting eight languages including Italian, Spanish, Russian and Japanese. A translation app has been built into Huddle to help translate content quickly (something else you don't see in the demo).
Also, Huddle includes an integration search engine that allows you to search within a specific workspace or across all your workspaces. You can also search by a specific type of content, like tasks, documents or discussions, and you can narrow your search down by creation date or by who last updated the content item.
Any collaboration solution should have mobile access and Huddle does offer it. Huddle supports both the iPhone/iPad, BlackBerry and Android OS. There is no native document editing for the iPhone or iPad, but integration with QuickOffice is available.
Huddle on iPhone
Huddle also provides an open API layer to allow you to integrate your backend systems (something you won't see in the trial) and develop specific applications that integrate Huddle functionality.
Currently you can see desktop apps that integrate Huddle into MS Office, Xobini and for the Chrome browser, among other apps.
Huddle is built primarily on the Microsoft platform: SQL, ASP.NET. It uses Solr for search, JQuery and HTML on the front-end and nhiberate in the middle tier.
A Secure SaaS Solution
As Huddle is marketed at large enterprises, security and reliability are key features required. Huddle guarantees 99.9% up time. There are also several levels of security including physical -- the primary data center is ISO 27001 certified, network and application (as we have shown).
Huddle also completed a SAS 70 Type II audit and they are certified to use in UK government departments up to IL2.
User Friendly Enterprise Collaboration
My initial thoughts on Huddle were that it had a very simple and clean interface, easy to understand and use without reading a document or having training. I also personally loved the MyDashboard, as I am sure many people will belong to more than one project team (or other type of team). The ability to start your day with a single view of what is coming and needs to be dealt with that day is very beneficial.
Security and reliability are also very important for any organization and knowing that Huddle is home to a number of government departments whose information is likely very secure is good to know. Huddle does include training and support with its packages and the prices are reasonable compared to other solutions.
This is certainly a solution to add to your list if you are evaluating collaboration solutions.