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Next-Generation E-Mail

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Before undertaking your next mass e-mail campaign, consider whether the information you’re sharing can be communicated more effectively as a multimedia newsletter, online presentation, or even a clickable, rich-media "micro-site" embedded within or readily accessed from an e-mail message.
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A new breed of collaborative e-mail software is pushing the envelope—so to speak—on how groups communicate online. Given the proliferation of office interactions conducted by e-mail in lieu of (and sometimes to the detriment of) face-to-face meetings or phone calls, these tools aim to help users get real work done—discussing issues, collaborating on documents, and making decisions—through their e-mail inboxes.

Eschewing the back-and-forth of plain-text e-mail correspondence chains—which lose their readability as the exchanges lengthen—these tools adopt the look of HTML-rich e-mail that's already familiar to recipients of many e-newsletters or bulk e-mailings. By adding the rich media content of Web pages to e-mail messages, these tools provide an eye-catching way to collaborate on everything from reviewing resumes to conducting surveys to organizing meetings.

Best of all, these tools can help cut down on the sheer numbers of e-mails transmitted by continually updating the contents of messages already sent. In one approach, senders can use these tools to continue to update their content even after the initial message is distributed because the interactive content resides on a centralized server. Such Web-based e-mail discussions, available only to the addressees, can feature continually updating graphics such as pie charts for survey responses. A second approach utilizes peer-to-peer technology, which calls for a multitude of interconnected PCs exchanging information without an intervening server.

To help you decide if collaborative messaging can deliver for your organization, the following roundup describes how several commercial services have implemented their offerings.

Table 1 - Comparing Collaborative Messaging Programs

Service

Pros

Cons

Viewing Requirements

Offline Use

Zaplet Appmail

Large template library greatly simplifies the e-mail design process.

One message continually tracks all replies.

Public trial site is free to all users upon registration.

Performance may suffer for users with dial-up connections.

Outlook users will see the interactive elements embedded within the e-mail messages. Notes and AOL users will see a URL embedded in the message that can be clicked to link to the page in a Web browser.

No offline support is available. However, the firm plans an optional plug-in for Outlook users that lets users work with Zaplets offline and then send once online again.

Consilient Sitelets

Users can incorporate Sitelets into other business processes using HTML, Java, and JavaScript.

Powerful audit functionality tracks bottlenecks in the workflow process.

No free or demo version of the development kit is available.

Sitelets offer flexible content delivery via the Web, e-mail, and mobile devices.

Because Consilient is peer-to-peer, users can conduct their own work without requiring a live network connection to underlying databases or applications. Users do need to be on the network to share information or locate new resources.

MindArrow Messenger

Flash detection capabilities.

Tracks reader response and clickthrough rate. Can also track "viral marketing" response: how and when messages are forwarded by recipients to others.

No free or demo version of the Messenger suite is available.

Can dynamically detect whether users' e-mail clients support AOL, text, or HTML.

Any embedded links to additional information, such as Web pages or downloadable files, are dependent upon Web connectivity. Content creators can use JavaScript to detect Internet connectivity.


Zaplet Appmail

Zaplets, small Java applets that can be embedded in e-mail exchanges, come with dozens of templates for customizing good-looking online communications for all kinds of business uses. Ready-made templates include Zaplets for finalizing quarterly earnings conference call scripts, collaborating on spreadsheets, and writing press releases—just to name a few. Recipients are prompted to provide input in one or more structured ways, as desired. For example, readers can provide approvals, respond with comments, answer survey questions, or attach revised versions of documents. Upon return visits, readers can peruse revisions documented chronologically, as well as view who has and who has not yet responded.

Zaplet, Inc. hosts a portal site in which its Appmail suite of applications can be created, sent, and received. This public trial site is currently available at no cost to users who register with the site. Supplying a company name is a required part of the registration process. The firm is targeting large-scale corporate users as its main audience, selling an Appmail Server for enterprises to host these applications themselves.

URL: http://www.zaplet.com/. The free trial site is available at http://trial.zaplet.com/.

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