Manage Inbox Overload with In App Collaboration

5 minute read
David Coleman avatar

According to Forbes "the average person spends 13 hours a week just reading and processing email.” But over the past few years things have started to change. In-app communications is trying to take people out of their inboxes by sending messages within the context of specific applications.

The decrease in email is starting to happen in the enterprise as adoption of collaboration tools rises. A good example of this is the BG Group, an international oil and gas company. In an interview with Computing, their CIO Angus McCallum noted:

Collaboration tools such as the suite from file-sharing firm Box are becoming so useful to BG Group that the software will eventually replace emails as a way of sharing files and documents."

Since BG Group operations are spread across 24 countries, collaboration software makes it much easier "to maintain contact with each other directly, rather than everything going through a central office .... We've done successful pilots with Box and we'll start to roll that out (company wide).”

Clarizen: Common Workplace

There are some very good examples of in app collaboration today, some coming from collaboration vendors. Clarizen Vice President Corporate Marketing, Lori Bush Shepard said, “since releasing v6, our own time to resolve new customer cases has dropped by 50 percent due to our ability to collaborate in the application.” 

By keeping the support cases in a common context, there are fewer emails internally and everything (documents, comments, etc.) are all kept in one work space.

Clarizen offers a variety of solutions, but with the marketing solution alone you can: merge social conversations and brainstorms, have real time visibility into marketing projects, create high performance teams, do project planning, marketing resource management, document management, social collaboration, templates, budget and expense tracking, timesheet tracking, request management, task management mobile connectivity, tie email to tasks and projects through Clarizen InterAct, internal and external collaboration, integrations, reporting and a metrics dashboard.


Figure 1: Clarizen Social Engagement screen

LiveLoop: Embed Collaboration

LiveLoop offers a different approach to getting people out of the inbox. Rather than offering a common workspace, LiveLoop embeds collaboration right into the Microsoft Office tool you are using. Though PowerPoint is the only tool currently available, there are plans over the next few months to add collaboration to Excel, Word and other modules.

LiveLoop is three guys from Stanford/MIT who felt that this level of in app collaboration was not available on some of the most often used apps today (like Microsoft Office).It has raised $4.4 million, the most recent coming from a Series A round for $2.8 million led by Columbus Nova Technology Partners and New Enterprise Associates.

How have these guys been able to do this, when Microsoft itself was not able to do it? According to Amal Dorai, their CEO:

Essentially, we've taken the existing set of operational transformation algorithms that are commonly used for text synchronization (EtherPad, Google Docs, etc.), and extended them to work with far more complex and nested data structures, such as groups of grouped objects, and data structures where operations can have side effects (for example, when you shrink a text box in PowerPoint, the text inside can shrink -- what do you do if someone else is editing this text?). Also, we've extended the state of the art in things like undo in a multi-user environment. These are the components of the 'special sauce' that our investors have backed us for, and why it's taken us several years to get to the point where we can now ship!"


Figure 2: LiveLoop's architecture

Learning Opportunities

Trello: The Dashboard Approach

Trello helps to eliminate email threads through a board filled with cards and lists. 


Figure 3: Trello board for a Kitchen Redesign project

Trello’s card interface is powerful and with an open card you can: add comments, upload file attachments from your computer, including from Google Drive, Dropbox, Box and OneDrive, create checklists, add labels, add due dates, and add people by just dragging them on a card.

Contatta: Team Based Emails

Contatta claims to reduce your mail box by 60 percent. They do this by making email for teams which means no more forwards, no more reply-all, you can share emails to collaborative workspaces in a single click and have real time conversations with your co-workers and customers. Rather than leaving unread emails in our inbox as task reminders, with Contatta you can click to convert emails into tasks and assign them to anyone on your team.

It also supports collaborative workrooms which enables users to upload files, assign tasks and have real-time conversations with as many people as you want, on as many projects as you want and inviting external guest collaborators is free.


Figure 4: Project Collaboration in a Contatta Workroom

Although many of the tools for supporting in app communication are task or project management tools, Liveloop supports collaboration within a specific app, a trend we are seeing much more of on mobile devices. While there are a variety of tools to help tame your inbox (Sanebox, the LinkedIn Connected App, Hop, Boomerang, Todoist, etc.) these are only band-aids that deal with the overloaded inbox, but don’t deal with its cause. Supporting in app communication or collaboration deals with one of the root causes of inbox overflow.

About the author

David Coleman

David Coleman has been writing about collaboration for over 30 years, and has written four books on the topic. He is a regular contributor to CMSWire, and writes aboutthe social aspects of work, as well as about the technology supporting it.

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