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How To Mark Up Documents In The Cloud

SkyDox goes beyond just sharing files in the cloud and lets you annotate them, striking a different balance between desktop and cloud than competitors like Box or Google Docs.

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FutureBrand Design Director Adam Murphy had been searching for something like SkyDox for a long time before it was foisted on him and his firm by a client.

A large telecommunications firm, one of the largest in Europe, proposed using SkyDox to improve the efficiency of collaboration, and FutureBrand initially acceded because the customer is always right, Murphy said. FutureBrand, a global branding firm and a subsidiary of McCann Worldgroup, is now starting to introduce it more broadly for internal collaboration and for work with other clients, he said.

"If we are to use this, and ask clients to use this, it needs to be simple, simple, simple," Murphy said. FutureBrand has tried many other collaboration projects over the years that sounded great in principle but turned out to be too great a burden. "When it came time to use them in practice, they were just too complex," he said.

SkyDox is far from the only collaboration tool in use at FutureBrand, where employees also use Dropbox and its competitors for basic file sharing and the Huddle cloud service for some other collaboration and project management tasks.

What SkyDox specifically addresses is the process of gathering feedback on concepts and designs, which would otherwise be conducted by email, or a combination of email and File Transfer Protocol (FTP). That's inherently inefficient because comments and revisions wind up being scattered across many file versions and emails, Murphy said. "I spend a good 30% to 50% of my time trying to collate feedback from people."

With SkyDox, files are shared in a Web workspace where reviewers can preview them and comment on them. Comments can be tagged to a specific word or area within a document or design, making it easier to clearly indicate what needs to be changed. As a designer, Murphy also appreciated the accurate online rendering of documents created by design tools such as Photoshop--something rival products he reviewed did not do as well. "We need it to look exactly as it was meant to work," he said.

SkyDox co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Barrie Hadfield said he doesn't want to compete with online document products like Google Docs. "We're not trying to be an editor at all," he said. The collaborative online authoring of documents at which Google Docs excels is interesting, but not what's most needed, he argued.

"My observation is that very little co-authoring happens," Hadfield said. "In a large project, you'll have one, two, maybe three people doing the editing, but a large number of people who need to participate and be kept up to date with what's happening."

The SkyDox approach is to leave authoring and editing to desktop applications, while providing a Web-based document previewing and annotation application based on HTML5 and converting uploaded files to PDF, the Adobe Acrobat file format. Collaborators are notified when files are uploaded or modified and when new comments and annotations are posted.

SkyDox offers a free version for occasional users and guest collaborators, with business pricing that starts at $15 per user per month. Upgrades include plugins for Microsoft Office and SharePoint to simplify sharing of documents from within those environments. Document collaborators can initiate sharing of a document, track changes, and exchange notes from within Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. When used with SharePoint, SkyDox adds sharing options and document previews. "SkyDox makes SharePoint sexy," Hadfield asserts.

SkyDox was also recently selected to offer document previews, in combination with the Microsoft FAST search engine, on a new European Court of Human Rights website.

Follow David F. Carr on Twitter @davidfcarr. The BrainYard is @thebyard

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