Pat Sullivan’s last product had a little bit of everything. Contatta included a contact manager, email, file manager, deal manager, etc — in other words, it was trying to boil the collaboration ocean.

In time, Sullivan came to understand that less is more.

Sullivan’s success with previous companies, ACT! and SalesLogix gave him a unique perspective on what works, what doesn't and what the market needed now, which brings us to Sullivan’s latest effort. 

Ryver is a communications tool that competes directly with the likes of Slack and HipChat (Atlassian). 

The name Ryver comes from the multiple communication streams that flow into a river. Sullivan’s main contention is that just as a river flows freely, communications need to be free. Ryver is a free tool, which Pat sees as a major differentiator from Slack and others.

Sullivan built Ryver on the Contatta platform, and plans to add some of the more advanced Contatta modules down the line for a fee. Free users can choose to add on these paid modules or continue using Ryver free of charge.

The first paid add on module will be (no surprise) task management.

Handling Communications Pains

Pat SullivanSullivan launched Ryver about four months ago to an encouraging response. While adoption has been nothing on the order of Slack — which at two years old boasts over two million daily active users and half a million subscribers — make no mistake about it: Ryver is going after Slack users. 

Ryver can import Slack data structures directly which makes for a smooth migration, and explains the popularity of this feature. Ryver can also add outside multimedia objects to chat (see Figure 1).

chat in ryver

Figure 1: Showing Chat in Ryver, and the ability to add Outside Objects

Slack on its part, continues to innovate its business model, recently starting an $80 million developer fund, backed by investors Accel, Andreessen Horowitz, Index Ventures, KPCB, Spark Growth and Social Capital. The goal is to build an application ecosystem on top of the Slack platform by funding "both 'Slack-first' apps as well as B2B and enterprise tools that make Slack integrations a core part of their offering.” 

Slack recently received a Crunchie Award as the fastest rising startup in 2015, and is riding high on momentum. 

Clearly Slack, HipChat, Ryver and others are addressing a real problem. The rapid uptake of these tools shows there is a lot of pain in the team communication area.

Ryver's Capabilities

Slack and Ryver share a lot of similarities. Where Slack breaks down different conversation streams in “channels,” Ryver has “forums.” Syncing for both tools is at the server level. Unlike Slack, Ryver allows you to invite outside collaborators — or “guests” — into forums. 

For example, if your software development team brings in a consultant to work on a project, they can invite this consultant into their team forum, or a specific team workspace (conversation).

inviting a guest

Figure 2: Inviting a guest into Ryver

Chat capabilities in Ryver include the option to promote a chat or group of chats to specific members or to guests to discuss privately. 

Sullivan notes, that in his experience, smaller teams of two to eight people tend to use chat to communicate, but larger teams of eight to 20 turn to posts and discussion for their interactions (Slack does not have a “post” function). Emails can be posted directly in Ryver as a “note,” which follows one of my rules for simplicity in collaborative tools — “one to two clicks to do anything!” 

Ryver also solves a common complaint against Slack — posts in Ryver allow for topic-based threaded discussions, so collaborators can respond directly to comments within a thread.

Ryver's Post Stream (see Figure 3) provides a view of all of the posts from all of the teams a person belongs to, kind of like a Facebook wall. A typical conversation in Ryver may start as a chat, but can be promoted to a topic and promoted to a post, and you can select various elements from the post stream to populate the topic and move forward with the discussion. You can even pull content from one team stream and post it in another.

Ryver post stream

Figure 3: A post stream in Ryver

Many proclaim Slack's strength comes from its integrations. Ryver offers integrations with a number of tools, allowing you to pull Twitter feeds and RSS feeds into a post stream (See Figure 4), bringing Twitter (# or @) and Google alerts in, and eventually Google Hangouts. Clicking on the paperclip icon in chat, posts or files gives the option to attach files from Dropbox, Box, GoogleDrive, your own computer or pretty much any file found in the cloud. twitter stream

Figure 4: Showing a Twitter feed in a Ryver chat stream

An Uphill Battle

With 175 team tools (and counting) in the space, Ryver clearly has an uphill battle. But the team communication space continues to demand better tools.

Teams want the ability to work in a common context, and to a degree a chat stream offers this. Many other tools on the list have more of a secure workspace approach to team working. That approach also provides a common context, but in most cases it is asynchronous. 

People work both synchronously and asynchronously, moving fluidly back and forth throughout their workday. In recognition of that, some of these asynchronous tools are offering integrations to help the tool work more like the person, instead of making the person conform to the limits of the collaboration tool. Redbooth's integration with real time tool Zoom is one such example.

When we looked at what platforms collaboration happens on in 2015, 70 percent was on laptops, 15 percent on tablets, and only 5 percent happened on smart phones due to limited screen real estate. But we're noticing a trend towards mobile devices, and my estimate is that smart phones and tablets are now the hardware platforms of choice for 40 percent of collaborative interactions.

Ryver, Hip Chat and Slack — in their accessibility, simplicity and ease of use — are all taking advantage of this trend towards mobile devices. The move to mobile devices brings with it a trend towards streaming and interactive video, which Ryver, Slack and HipChat will have to accommodate. 

Collaborative apps need to move away from older collaborative styles of work to support the way people want to work today — via text and chat.