Start-up looks to leverage corporate IM

Anticipating that instant messaging will play an increasingly important role in collaboration, start-up Convoq is gearing up to introduce an application next month that adds video- and Web conferencing to IM.

Led by Charles Digate, one-time CEO of e-mail company Beyond Inc., Convoq ASAP is what the company calls an instant meeting system. You can find people to meet with, meet right away or "as soon as present" (hence the ASAP moniker), and choose your method of communications: chat, audio- or videoconferencing, or application sharing.

Participants are identified from your IM list or invited via e-mail, a key strength being that contacts don't need to be running the ASAP client. They can participate from Windows, Macintosh or Linux systems without downloading anything. They don't even need to be running the same flavor of IM.

How? Convoq ASAP is a hosted application - all connections go through Convoq's data center - and Flash is used to build the user interface in real time on machines that don't have the client.

Flash has built-in audio and video coder/decoder so any PC that has speakers and a microphone can participate in full audio and, if they don't have a camera, at least one-way videoconferences.

Digate says the initial sales focus is on support, professional services and sales operations - the types of users that need to be able to quickly assemble people to answer questions or resolve problems.

To facilitate the meeting process ASAP supports something called Lifelines. A supplier, for example, could make Lifelines available to customers, which when clicked, establish connections to available support personnel or their designated stand-ins. If no one is available at the moment, the "as soon as present" option could be invoked.

Digate says the product is in the final phase of development and will be officially launched next month, but IM users can demo it by downloading a free version of the client from www.convoq.com.

Although he won't reveal pricing, Digate says ASAP will be subscription-based. There will be one price for users who meet with up to two people (no time limit), and a higher fee for up to six people per meeting.

While Convoq eventually will face stiff competition as Microsoft and other vendors integrate their messaging and meeting tools, Convoq's advantages are that it will work with all types of IM and the company apparently will beat the others to market with this interesting new approach.

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