As our world becomes increasingly interconnected and the need for collaboration with others — regardless of geography or time zone — grows as a business imperative at all levels within organizations, just talking with people over the phone or with Skype, instant messaging, sending an SMS or email, or even using some sort of Web-centric tool just won’t be enough.
Most of us are visual learners and communicators and thus have to see what you’re talking about and, of course, doing so is at the core of the idiom, “to be on the same page.” To communicate your vision in the most profound, efficient, synchronous and impactful way means that your virtual communications must include the ability to show others documents, presentations, Web pages, images and more in real-time so you can interact in the most powerful way possible.
In addition (and perhaps more vital) reason to find virtual ways to connect with others and be on the same page is the explosion in personal and company actions globally that are “green” in nature. More of us are trying to discover ways to consume less oil, spew fewer carbons into the atmosphere, and be just as, or more, productive without continuing to move atoms around (either our bodies or physical goods) like we’ve been doing in the past.
Meeting these needs (and more) is at the heart of what a Minnesota firm, Yugma (pro. “Yoog-mah” and not like many do “yugg-mah”) offers to the marketplace. As they say about themselves, “The name Yugma is a word from the Sanskrit language meaning “the state of being in unified collaboration.” Yugma, Inc. is a privately held venture-backed company headquartered in Minnesota , USA and has offices in Minneapolis, Mexico, Argentina and India.”
To me, being in unified collaboration means collaborating with others has to be easy to understand for everyone participating, nearly instantaneous to connect, and as simple to use as a to use as a word processor. Yugma delivers as you’ll see.
Yugma is positioned as a free web collaboration service, but they wisely deliver several paid premium levels of service enabling you to have numerous collaborators in a session or use the service for mass presentation delivery. Their service offers web conferencing with all of the requisite baseline services (e.g., whiteboard; host control switching; mouse and keyboard control of remote systems and more) and easily enables people to instantly connect over the internet. Their service supports Windows, Mac or Linux for both host and presenter functionality.
While you can easily poke around for yourself on their site, try out Yugma for free, read the FAQ’s and learn about all the bells-and-whistles they deliver, I’d like to first give you a quick snapshot of their current status.
I met last Friday with with CEO Lingaraj Mishra (right), and COO, Karel Lukas (left), to get an update on their status and probe a bit in order to try and get behind all the positive buzz they’ve been receiving as of late.
A quick disclaimer is in order: Yugma was a client of mine in 2006 in their early stages (and I have some options) so I’m quite familiar with where they were and how far they’ve leapt ahead in a short time. Perhaps I’ll come across as a bit of a cheerleader in this post, waving my pom-poms for their success, but just know that I intend to provide you with a balanced report.
I’ll be up front and clear on one thing about the web conferencing space Yugma competes in: there are dozens of competitors. Nearly all of them target the enterprise while a handful (Go-to-Meeting as the most notable example) do that and target consumers (especially home and small business workers).
The space is also becoming more consolidated with Cisco buying the #1 vendor WebEx (I posted about why that happened here and my thoughts were validated by one of my heroes: Internet visionary and publisher Tim O’Reilly here) and IBM acquiring WebDialogs (for their Unyte product). In addition, basic screensharing is being built in to operating systems (e.g., Microsoft’s Vista-centric Windows Meeting Space and Apple’s iChat in Leopard) which gnaws away at the edges of what Yugma delivers.
As evidenced by some of these consolidation moves, web sharing functionality is becoming “table stakes” to be in the collaboration and unified communication games. While most of these larger services offer every flipper, flapper and dweebezaarb feature you could ever imagine, most of us just need to instantly pull up a service while we’re on the phone with someone or a team and collaborate quickly with minimal setup and fuss. We also don’t want to be concerned with high costs or whether or not some individual or some group we need to connect with has the same computer platform or latest version of an operating system.
Yugma has smartly focused their efforts right smack dab in the sweet spot of the millions of people that are connecting up with Web 2.0 applications and services, joining and participating in social networks, and living an always-on, always-connected lifestyle in record numbers. People who are using a variety of computer platforms and operating systems. Whether we participants are in a coffee shop using Wifi, at the office or at home, we need to connect and collaborate with others across the internet in increasingly more robust ways.
Here are just a few of the results of that focus according to Lingaraj and Karel:
- Yugma is now fully Skype Certified. This is a big deal since (as I write this post), there are 11,805,212 people online with Skype running. Any of them, at any time, could launch Yugma. Read this latest reporting in VOIP News that talks about the top five Skype Extras–with Yugma at #1–and you’ll see that others in-the-know think this service is brilliant
- Version 3.0 is in beta and will be released February 29th. Sporting a new streamlined interface, faster launch and significantly enhanced performance, my use of this version to date shows it be to rock solid and the Mac version on full parity with the Windows version (haven’t tried Linux)
- They’re actively working on new application programming interfaces (API’s). This is huge for them as it enables other Web application developers to consume Yugma as a service and as a part of their application. It also facilitates Yugma moving into delivering their functionality into a whole host of other areas by inserting their service into those places where people congregate online (hmmm….that was pretty nebulous Borsch…but I’m embargoed on revealing anything more so was intentionally vague)
- Have rolled out playback capability for recorded Yugma sessions. An option for server-level transcoding of a Yugma session in to Apple’s Quicktime video format is available. This is important since more and more of us are investing our intellectual capital in communicating with others and delivering that communication asynchronously (on-demand when someone can watch it) is a must
- Their core infrastructure is now massively scalable (which was an issue a little over a year ago when hosting sessions globally since latency was high) as they have presence at major peering points on the internet with an up-n-down scaling of the server-side applications as demand dictates. They’ll soon deliver service level agreements for enterprise customers, something they demand, and confidence is high among reviewers who’ve put Yugma through the paces
- Are experiencing 800 sessions per day with 200 concurrent sessions at any given time
- 4 million minutes per month (and 400,000 minutes of conference calling per month through the free conference calling service)
- 3.5 people average in each session
- Average session is one hour
- They’ve significantly expanded their distribution offerings:
- They have a widget you can post on a blog, web page or in a social network so any visitor can instantly start or join a Yugma session. My only concern with this strategy is grabbing a Yugma widget is buried in their developer section and not easily available to a mass audience
- An affiliate program paying a 15% commission on monthly recurring revenues
- Discussions of a private/white label program are underway where a co-branded or branded offering would be available to organizations or developers at a negotiated price.
What’s not clear to me is their path to monetization and ongoing ability to offer enough competitive features to keep the Internet crowd interested. With more major vendors building this web conferencing capability into the infrastructure layer (e.g., Cisco with WebEx or even at a low level from within personal computer operating systems), it may accelerate an already major race toward commoditization, lower prices and less gross margin for everyone involved.
Simultaneously, however, costs will continue to come down for bandwidth (which Yugma and other vendors pay handsomely for) while broadband companies offer ever faster speeds (e.g., Comcast DOCSIS; Verizon FIOS) for the same or lower costs to consumers and businesses. This means services like Yugma’s will only become a better experience for users (i.e., faster screen refreshes, video capability, etc.), more affordable for those of us accessing the Yugma-type services (as well as Yugma-type providers themselves), and thus demand for internet-centric communications will be a continuously accelerating one.
Yugma has continued great opportunity as this demand curve goes up. If they continue to focus and execute as they have in the past year or so, I expect you’ll be hearing alot of people properly pronouncing their company name as it rolls of the tips of their tongues while on the phone, “Let me show you something…give me a second and I’ll set up a quick Yugma session.“