Web 2.0 works to solve problems

Surprise! Web 2.0 does more than social networking.

Every marketing firm must have the same set of buzzword stamps they use, inking every product with Green and Collaboration and Easy to Use and Do More With Less, often tagged additionally with the ever popular Web 2.0. Since the Web 2.0 buzzword long ago became so vague as to be useless, let me introduce you to three companies that solve Real World 1.0 problems with the help of Web 2.0 technology: YouSendIt, EchoSign, and Casdex.

Let's start with YouSendIt, in Campbell Calif., although being Web 2.0, “where” doesn't really matter. YouSendIt focuses on one function: sending large files you can't send via e-mail. Just about everyone has tried to send some file, maybe a bloated PowerPoint file with too many transitions and added sounds like a cash register ca-ching, and had it bounced back by an e-mail server.

“From the very beginning, there are three things users try to do with those files before they find us,” said Ranjith Kumaran, CTO and founder of YouSendIt. “First, they try to chop the file up, but then the recipient has trouble putting it back together. Then they try to use an FTP server, but either they or the recipient has trouble. Finally they give up, burn it to a CD or DVD, and FedEx it.”

YouSendIt allows people to send files up to 2GBs in size and tracks the delivery of those files to all their recipients. You fill out the e-mail address of the recipients, your e-mail address for the delivery notification, and upload the file or files.

YouSendIt sends an e-mail with the download details to your recipient. They also encrypt the connection during the upload and download process. Using the “freemium” model (oops, another buzzword stamp), you can try the service free for files under 100MBs.

“Our slogan is send, receive, track,” said Kumaran. “Rather than approach this from the storage and security angle, we approached it from the ease of use angle.”

So far, YouSendIt has over 100,000 paying customers and over 8.5 million registered users. In true Web 2.0 fashion, news spread virally. Mostly, the news spread because every person you send a file too discovers how well the system works, and they sign up as well.

“We have over 800 corporate customers since we started YouSendIt Express,” said Kumaran. “Every one of those customers came to us because employees used us and spread the word to their companies.”

Rather than try to add bells and whistles, Kumaran focuses on adding ways for users to more easily access YouSendIt. Their desktop-based Express software bypasses the need to use the browser and connects directly to YouSendIt servers. Express adds some other features, like automatically compressing files and better network interruption recovery. Over a million Express downloads tell Kumaran customers like the feature.

“Our Outlook plug-in is the second most popular feature,” said Kumaran. “Over half of our corporate customers use this.” Companies can set the file limits for attachments and automatically route files via YouSendit rather than trying to e-mail them. Users don't have to leave Outlook, and they don't have to decide how to handle large attachments, because the system takes care of it for them.

Other plug-ins exist for just about any software application that generates big files. “Customers say they work in Photoshop all day, and don't want to leave it to send their files,” said Kumaran. Microsoft Office and FinalCut Pro have two other popular plugins. Versions for Windows and OS X can be downloaded, which is good, because content creators (audio and video and more) still tend to lean toward Macs. And everyone working in audio, video, or graphics creates files too big to stuff into an e-mail envelope.

Next is EchoSign, another California firm and a leader in the electronic signatures business. They call themselves the “Web's #1 Electronic Signature Service,” and let you sign documents via e-signature, fax, or printing out documents and returning them the old fashioned way. Somewhat like YouSendIt, you upload the file (or send the fax) to EchoSign and they arrange for the other party in the transaction to see the document and e-sign it, or print, sign, and return it. Everyone gets a copy of the signed document and EchoSign keeps a copy as well that you can access whenever you need.

I spoke with an EchoSign customer, Angela O'Grady, the COO of Preferred Offices, a “hotel for businesses” in the Washington D.C. area that rents offices, meeting rooms, and other business location services. “We started with EchoSign after a client sent our contract back to us with the service,” said O'Grady.

In two years, O'Grady said they've used EchoSign for 441 documents, plus another 100 or so their customers printed, signed on paper, and returned. Clients don't have to pay anything to receive a document, just like YouSendIt doesn't charge the recipients of files.

“We're selling the latest and greatest technology and bandwidth,” said O'Grady, “and this is another nuance of how we provide state of the art service for our clients.” Being high-tech, and using EchoSign's management tools, they now know their average document signing time is 114 minutes. That certainly beats the days it used to take to get contract paperwork modified and signed.

Last, let's look at Casdex.com. They go last today because that's when people think of archiving documents. This isn't backup, but true long-term archiving with rigorous controls to maintain documents, verify they aren't altered, and simplify audits and litigation demands.

David Barley, CTO of Casdex, said they provide “an archiving place for data that won't change, such as finalized contracts and other legal documents. This is like putting documents in a safe deposit box, but you can prove the file you retrieve is the same file you stored 20 years ago.”

Sure, you can back up your data, but you can't later prove the documents weren't changed in case of legal questions. Or, as is the case today, for compliance audits. When Casdex stores them, they guarantee the files are protected.

Archiving isn't enough in today's world of e-discovery because you may need to find those documents again in a hurry. “We do indexing at two levels,” said Barley. “We track the file name, folders, dates entered, and who uploaded or created the content. We can also find all documents with custom meta data tags like user names, insurance type or other tags. And we can grab all the text inside documents with common file formats.”

As do YouSendIt and EchoSign, Casdex earns its Web 2.0 buzzword stamp using software-as-a-service technology over the Web. Users log in to a Web portal and can drag and drop files to archive them.

Unlike so many Web 2.0 buzzword-heavy companies today, these three solve real business problems, have real customers paying real money, and help ease the burden on real busy IT people. All three cater to small businesses, and all three say IT folks working at their client companies welcome the help they provide.

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