Twenty years ago, an office meant more or less the same thing for everyone: Employees worked in the same building, relying on a paper filing systems to organize their past and present projects. If any assets were computerized, the digital filing system was typically unsophisticated — and almost always located on one server.
Today’s digital workplaces stand in stark contrast. Teams now live and work in different cities, countries, timezones — and softwares. As a result, most brands have assets scattered across the web: from conversation threads on Gmail, to unedited articles on Evernote, to files buried deep in a Dropbox account.
Knowledge management (KM) systems have sought to restore the link between company assets and employees. One of them, Stamford, Ct.-based Shelf, a KM startup which currently has 15 employees and boasts 8,000 users, has caught the attention (and the business) of Google and Amazon.
Shelf was founded in 2015 by Sedarius Tekara Perrotta, Tobias Jaeckel and Colin Kennedy. The company raised $2.2 million in a seed funding round this June led by Connecticut Innovations and SeedInvest.
At its core, Shelf aims to integrate with some of the most commonly used workplace tools to try and — with the help of artificial intelligence — unify those scattered projects and assets on top of one virtual shelf, if you will.
In an interview with CMSWire, CEO Perrotta described Shelf as a, “freemium SaaS content sharing platform that helps distributed companies organize and instantly access their most important content in a centralized place.”
When pressed about the benefits of Shelf Perrotta pointed out the software's, “superior search, artificial intelligence, platform integrations, easier setup and more flexible pricing [in comparison to competitors].”
“Shelf accommodates all sorts of content — everything from online documents to web articles to PDF and YouTube videos. The end result is that your team members retrieve what they need, in a matter of seconds,” Perrotta claimed.
Perrotta also confirmed that Shelf plans to invest some of its newly acquired seed funding into developing integrations for Gmail, Box, Slack and Microsoft 365.
AI-Powered Knowledge Management
Perrotta said Shelf team’s mission was to “understand the Science of Organization.”
During the Shelf development process, the team consulted Harvard librarians, change management experts and information architects to discover the “five pillars of organization,” which he claimed were: assess, capture, organize, find and connect.
Armed with that knowledge, the Shelf team built a product that leverages artificial intelligence to automatically organize content and index the text inside of documents and images, enabling users to quickly search for deeply buried information.
“Once content is inside of Shelf, the technology makes it easy to find anything instantly through in-document search, OCR technology and advanced filters that allow content to be found by approximate date, content source, tags or the person who created it,” Perrotta said.
Touching on how Shelf aims to expand its AI capabilities, Perrotta said that, “in the near future, Shelf will automatically suggest relevant content to users, auto-tag, auto-organize and automatically connect people with relevant expertise.”
To make all that a reality, the Shelf team plans to invest in, “implementing proprietary artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms.”
Hands-on With Shelf
We got our hands dirty with the free version of Shelf, which allows for up to four users and 5GB of storage. Paid subscription plans start at $99 per month and go up to $499 per month.
Here’s what we learned from tinkering with Shelf’s core features:
Each user receives a Private Folder, where they can organize their own assets, away from the prying eyes of others. You can upload files and folders from your computer or import them from Google Drive, Dropbox and OneDrive. Plus, you can import your browser bookmarks.
Depending on your plan, multiple users can be added to a single instance of Shelf and each will also receive a Private Folder. For sharing, Shelf comes bundled with an Organization Folder, which is accessible to everyone invited into your Shelf instance.
Searching and Filtering
Shelf’s search function reaches across all your content as well as inside of documents and images.
For example, if you enter a search term, Shelf doesn’t just look at file names, it also searches within documents and even reads any text found in uploaded images to help you find what you’re looking for.
Files can also be dragged-and-dropped from one area to another, such as from your Private Folder to your Organization Folder.
As for filtering, you can apply filters to browse your content by: content type, format, tags, added by, source and date uploaded.
This is where your other shared libraries or groups will be listed. You can add specific people that you want to give access to your group libraries.
Now, although Shelf touts its collaboration features on its website, its “Groups” feature barely scratches the surface of true enterprise collaboration. Users can comment on documents and share them within groups, but there are no intranets or messaging features to help keep collaboration and knowledge management under the same roof — which may be why Shelf has made it a point to integrate with Slack.
It should also be noted that, while you can control access to assets, you can’t specify detailed permissions. In other words, if you grant access on Shelf, you grant total access.
As previously mentioned, Shelf supports file uploading and importing from a small range of popular cloud storage locations, while Gmail, Box, Slack and Microsoft 365 integrations are all in the works.
However, your employees might feel that — until those integrations do arrive — Shelf’s reach will be confined to relatively small pockets of your organization’s asset library, especially when you consider that Gmail and Slack combined have well over 1 billion monthly active users.
A Worthy Disrupter
With powerful search and organizational features, as well as the promise of further integrations and a broader AI presence, it’s no wonder some of the world’s largest companies are experimenting with Shelf.
However, it should be noted that Shelf definitely isn’t equipped to replace your digital asset management system (DAM) or your enterprise collaboration platform. But as a file discovery and knowledge management system, Shelf can sit between those two digital dimensions of your company to help your employees find assets, wherever they’re buried.