Part of the reason enterprise software is so crushingly unsexy has to do with its very name. There’s something about those two words that just seems to automatically induce a metallic vomit. But a lot of it comes down to design. Enterprise software is ugly to think about because, by and large, it’s ugly to look at. Only now are we beginning to see that change, with the likes of Siasto leading the charge.
Today, the Y Combinator grad released a new “Discussions” feature that gives the word “enterprise” a much prettier face. In Discussions, you can drag and drop images from the Web into chat rooms set up around particular topics. These pictures then become central to the communication, rather than being something you tack onto a written message.
Siasto is one of the few enterprise-oriented companies that gets design right. The service launched in April and distinguished itself from its competitors – Basecamp and Yammer, for example – by organizing navigation around tiles instead of tabs. Siasto is integrated with Google Apps and Dropbox, so for many people sign-up is super easy, and it’s dead easy to use.
The world needs more of the same. Take Yammer, for example. We at PandoDaily use it as our main internal discussion tool, and for the most part is does a serviceable job. But it’s not pleasure to use. Its Web app looks like a pokey rip-off of Facebook circa 2009, and its Mac app is all square edges, tiny thumbnails, and dreary greys. The new iPhone app is a much lighter, sleekly designed experience, but it’s far from perfect, too. So I dread opening Yammer, and that can’t be great for productivity.
There was once a beautiful group discussion tool that, like Yammer, let people communicate in real-time and, unlike Yammer, was beautiful to behold. You might have heard of it. It was called Google Wave. We might not have noticed it at the time, but when Google Wave disappeared, so did the idea of the attractive project management tool.
Siasto is bringing that back, ironically on the back of Google’s apps, including Docs, Calendar, and Gmail. The Discussions feature is only the latest addition.
Co-founder Niccolo Pantucci says that one of Siasto users has called the new feature “Pinterest for work.” That’s not quite right, but I can see what he’s getting at. The visual approach is Pinterest-y in terms of realizing the power of the image as a communications vehicle, but without the “Pin it” bookmarklet, it lacks the serendipitous “Oh this pic is nice!” advantage that Pinterest enjoys. That’s fine, though, because Siasto is a work tool, not a social network designed to impose your personal tastes in dressing tables on the world.
“A picture tells a thousand words,” says Pantucci, “so the benefit of having something that’s visually appealing, and easy to share and collaborate, makes the image all the more powerful – particularly in a work context.”
Another nifty aspect of Discussions is that you can write and receive updates from your Gmail inbox (Siasto is based on Google Apps), circumventing the need to always have the site open.
Siasto is a result of a pivot after Pantucci and his co-founder Courtland Allen were accepted into Y Combinator for a Gmail plug-in called TaskForce, which converts emails into task lists. They released a commercial version of the product in summer last year. But after receiving a lot of requests from users who wanted to have group versions, they decided to create something for multiple simultaneous users. And so was born Siasto. Today, it’s used most by small businesses, Web designers, and startups.