[ Home | Online Community Toolkit |Online Community Resources ]
Full Circle Associates: http://www.fullcirc.com

Full Circle Associates' Online Interaction Tool Tour Nancy White Last Updated: May, 2006

The Tool Tour is designed to give you a sense of the range of online interaction and collaboration tools available. Different tools are applied for different functions. There are a LOT of tools here. Feel free to skip around as time allows.

For a sense of how many products there are out there, take a quick peek at http://www.thinkofit.com/webconf/index.htm, OpenCommunity.org, Denham Grey's Collaboration Toollist, and Tools for Working Virtually.

As you look at tools, think about them in context of your group's goals or needs. Here are a few questions to keep in mind.

  • What is the main activity or function that a tool might support for you? (i.e. information exchange, idea creation, decision making, social/group building experiences.)
  • As you look or experiment with the tool, think about how easy/hard it is to figure it out. How might your potential users react to the tool?
  • What do you like best about the tool? Least?
  • Will your users have the machine power and bandwidth to successfully utilize the tool? Does the tool work on both MAC and PC platforms? Do they have to have always-on internet access? High bandwidth?
  • Is it "pushed" to the user (i.e. alerts of new messages or full content delivered to the user both on the web and via email box) or must the user go to the web and "pull" the information to themselves? If it is pull, what will be the trigger? The attention holding plan?
  • Do you need asynchronous tools? Synchronous? Both?
  • Does the system support fonts and interfaces in other languages? (Some of these issues are tool based, some are browser based.)
  • Is the cost reasonable? At what scale?
  • If the tool is deployed for a time delimited event, is there a "snapshot" utility to archive the interactions (ie. for a CD or other type of static archive)?

Discussion Tools

Web Based Discussion Tools

The most common type of web based tools are discussion boards where people can read and exchange comments. There are two main structures for web based discussion tools, threaded and linear. More and more tools are providing user or administrator options to change the structure on the fly.

These days it is rare to talk about a single function tool. Many discussion board providers now bill themselves as community software providers and bundle other tools into their products such as chat, instant messaging, polls, blogs, wikis, member directories and file sharing. So you will find some overlap between the first few sections of the tour and the groupware section! In addition, there is sometimes a split in communities where some like blogs and wikis and others prefer discussion boards. This split may be generational, but regardless of its origin, it is helpful to be aware of this and figure out how to bridge between the groups when picking tools.

One important distinguishing feature of web based discussions are that they are asynchronous PULL tools. You have to log on to the net and "pull" the information to you. This is gradually changing as software tools add email interfaces and email notifications. Some are now including RSS (really simple syndication) so participants can subscribe to discussions just like they subscribe to blog posts. With some tools, members can participate fully via email (full content delivered to email and posting from email)or be reminded of new content with links back to the web interface. This is an important for two reasons. It is cost efficient for areas where people pay by the minute for Internet access. It reminds people to engage if they are not in the habit of checking a web space for new messages. There are still not many other offline reading options for web based discussion tools.

Example Sites:

Provider/Sample Site



www.worldcrossing.com provides a limited functionality site for WebCrossing. Full function and user support community at WebXHarbor.

Can be configured in many ways but a bit of a steep learning curve based on a proprietary coding language, WebCrossing Template Language (WCTL). This allows you to do many things with some programming expertise. It can be licensed to run on your server, or hosted by WebCrossing (currently with servers in US and Japan). The buttons and help files can all be translated. Currently there is a full Japanese and Spanish sets available. Has integrated chat and instant simple instant messaging. NOTE: Version 5.0 has a huge increase in formatting options for those who want a web-interface instead of working with WCTL and include email lists, a type of blog and wiki interface. Their newest offering will also include social networking functionality.


GroupJazz Caucus Demo

Can arrange to show other sites by appointment.

This is a demo of an elearning space hosted by GroupJazz, which uses Caucus. Caucus has a smooth, linear conversational interface, file upload/download, inline images and some user tracking tools. It is provided on an ASP basis from a variety of vendors. In 2005 the source code was made Open Source.


About Catalyst

From their site: BigMind Catalyst is a highly customizable social space for multiple teams and community development, collaborative learning, in-depth conversations, project management, and problem-solving in a supportive atmosphere that is focused and well-organized. Catalyst can become the core infrastructure used to run an organization.

BigMindMedia integrates its strategic consulting, facilitation, and web design with its expert, innovative use of BigMind Catalyst... for extending powerful group learning processes into the digital realm, including BigMind Learning Circles, multilevel discussions, e-learning environments, and interactive multimedia.

Prospero Technologies/Delphi Forums

Live demo

This is a good demo of Prospero's tool set. Note the list of who is online on the left once you log in. Prospero is an ASP service.

Email Discussion Tools

Email lists or listservs(tm) are essentially group emails. They have been the mainstay of online interaction with a long (for the Internet!) history.

Now there are services that provide group emails plus additional features, turning them into potential groupware tools. The most common was, until January 2000, http://www.egroups.com. It is now http://www.yahoogroups.com. Listbot ceased services in 2001. Topica.com is another large provider, while Google is beta testing their own email group product. For those in international development, non profits and NGOs, see D-Groups, Riseup and other email list hosts who are devoted to serving non profits.

Most of these services provide easy-to-use group lists, archiving of messages, member directories and sometimes chat and database features. They are advertising supported with some having fee-based upgrades to remove the ads. The advantage of these tools is that they push messages into user's email boxes, where most people read regularly. The disadvantage is that messages going one-by-one loose context of the conversation and if you want to read on the web, you have to click through to each individual message. Good for broadcasting information, less helpful for getting work done, deep discussion or building coherent teams.

Some providers host the tools on their servers (ASP or application service provider model) while others sell licenses.

Email is an asynchronous PUSH tool.

Example Sites:



www.yahoogroups.com (formerly egroups.com)

http://groups.yahoo.com/ group/ onlinefacilitation

This is a list I moderate on online facilitation. You can view the archives without being a member, and get a sense of the range of tools. Check out the files, bookmarks and database. A key feature for me is that users manage their own subscriptions. (theoretically!)



This is an open, un-moderated list for fans of the Cluetrain Manifesto. Note the large volume. This demonstrates how volume and haphazard use of subject lines can make it hard to extract value. But for those deeply into the group and its flow of information, it is very powerful.

Chat Tools

Chat is an synchronous PULL tool. You go to a chat room and participate in real time with other users. It can be used to facilitate internal team work, socializing, or for events with guest speakers, such as an issues forum. Or chat can even be made available for users to use as they wish to informally connect and communicate. This informal function is gradually being taken over by Instant Messaging tools. Chat generally comes in two variations: java and html. Java chat only works on newer, faster machines. Some developers are now adding voice chat, but the quality is still low and the bandwidth requirements are high.

Note: Most of the community tool providers include chat in their suite of tools. Here are three providers who specialize in chat just to give you more background. This list sorely needs updating as there are interesting new options.

Example Sites:

Provider/Sample Site



For a Demo click on their customer support icon.

Ichat provides java based chat rooms and discussion boards.


Chatspace Demo

Chatspace offers a package of chat/web server and html and Java client code. Since Chatspace's purchase of O'Reilly's WebBoard, they are moving into providing a full set of interaction tools.

GroupWare, Collaboration Platforms and Portals

"Groupware is technology designed to facilitate the work of teams. This technology may be used to communicate, cooperate, coordinate, solve problems, compete, or negotiate. While traditional technologies like the telephone qualify as groupware, the term is ordinarily used to refer to a specific class of technologies relying on modern computer networks, such as email, newsgroups, videophones, or chat." From: Usability First. For more about Groupware, see Usability First's information here.

Until recently I had not classified "portals" with groupware tools. However, as the marketplace matures, there is merging of these two categories. There is still quite a diverse range of products, but it is significant to see that most portal products are incorporating groupware and interaction tools.

Like discussion tools, groupware has synchronous and asynchronous features. The distinctino is that Groupware tools are generally aggregating a range of tools. The most common are discussion tools, voting/polling/prioritizing tools, document and file sharing, calendaring, directories, content management and workflow/project management. This is a rapidly growing sector of the software community and the number of tools and tool elements changes daily. Some providers host the tools on their servers (ASP or application service provider model) while others sell licenses. Groupware is often the base of business intranets for works such as project managment, work flow and procurement. A technical subset of groupware is the "Peer-to-Peer" (P2P) space which distributes the software across the network rather than a hub/spoke arrangement of software that resides on a central server. The leading P2P groupware application is Groove.net.

Example Sites:

ProviderSample Site/


GroupMind Express


This product is designed around a particular group facilitation process. It does not have the full feature set, but the brainstorming and decision making toolset is superb and easy to use. ASP model

ERoom (Documentum)

ERoom Flash Tour

Eroom is designed and promoted as a digital workplace and is oriented towards project management tools. Includes both synchronous and asynchronous tours. Space can be rented at monthly rates that are based on number of users and disk space used. ASP


Product components

Wego offers both hosted and site license products that combine portals with interaction tools.



"Tomoye's Simplify product is aimed at supporting dispersed Communities of Practice and portal applications."



Lotus also has a Learning Room and Team Room project which can be integrated with Quickplace. Good for groups that are using Lotus notes as it can be integrated.


Product Info (click on Quicktour)

Peer-to-Peer, client/server software environment for online interaction. Client still in preview edition (July 2001) Synchronous and asynchronous tools including message boards, chat, IM, whiteboard, file share, scheduling etc.

Other Providers



There are a variety of other providers. Critical in selecting a groupware ASP is to assess for the long-term survival in an uncertain market and how you can maintain control of your files and data.

Live Presentation/Meeting Tools

A growing number of software providers are packaging live online event tools. These are almost exclusively on the ASP model, with customers paying per event, based on number of attendees, or by the month. These tools are good for large, synchronous events presented over the Internet or in combination with telephone conference calls. They are bandwidth heavy. However, looking at multi-modal/multi-media tools is an important way to include more users who are not well prepared for a text only environment.

Example Sites:



LiveMeeting (formerly Placeware)

LiveMeeting Events


(check their schedule)

Useful for demos (like web tours!), group document editing, integrate visual tools with teleconference. ASP model. Was bought by Microsoft - thus the rename/rebranding.



(scroll to the bottom after registering.)

Another synchronous online meeting product and offer capabilities in English and Spanish. They also offer survey systems. ASP model.


Quicktour (scroll down)

Can be rented by the month or by the live event. Similar functionality to Placeware. Slightly less expensive. ASP model

HP Virtual Classroom

Demos: example "on-demand" recording of a live Webcast and example recorded Webcast with video

(both work better under IE)

A full featured system aimed at the training and education markets. ASP model.



From the site: "Elluminate is a leading provider of live Web conferencing and eLearning solutions for the real-time organization. Serving corporate and academic sectors, the company ensures the best user experience through superior quality VoIP, communications that are in-sync regardless of connection speed, broad cross-platform support, and advanced yet easy-to-use moderator tools."

"Social Software Tools (Blogs, Wiki's, and Other Creatures)

Quicktopic, Blogs, Wikis -- all these funny sounding tools point to the powers of publishing and networking. The idea of being able to publish to the web with little or no technical knowledge offers the possibility of sharing information and knowledge. They can be deployed as group publishing and annotation tools as well, with Quicktopic being an excellent, free and ad-free example!

For more background and history on blogs, see these articles and link collections: Example Sites:




An old quicktopic of mine used to solicit feedback on a draft article. See also their FAQ.

From the site: Basic Quick Topic is free, and you can use it as long as you want to. We charge a fee for co-branding and customization of our services (see below).Quick Topic is also, as Jon Udell put it, "an important experiment...build some applications, get some groups to start using them, observe the results, and adjust the apps accordingly." We're building an application that's somewhat unique, extremely useful, and as easy to use as email. We evolve Quick Topic in direct response to your needs, based on your feedback to us. That's why it remains so simple and useful. Our biggest reward is to see that thousands of people are connecting easily in groups, in ways that aren't possible with email -- ways that are easier and less technically involved than just about anywhere else.


My main blog and a "cool" blog done with blogger.

Blogger explains blogs. Pyra was one of the first to offer folks free blogging tools. From their site: Blogger is a web-based tool that helps you publish to the web instantly -- whenever the urge strikes. Blogger is the leading tool in the rapidly growing area of web publishing known as weblogs, or "blogs." Other well know blog tools are Moveable Type, Word Press, Live Journal and others.


NTC Panel Blog Some information on NGOs and blogging

From their site: WordPress.com is a project brought to you by some of the same folks who do the Open Source blogging software available at WordPress.org. WordPress-the-software has been incredibly successful and risen from a handful of users to the most-used blog tool in its category.


Ward Cunningham's useful WikiWeb site

From the site:

The simplest online database that could possibly work.

Wiki is a piece of server software that allows users to freely create and edit Web page content using any Web browser. Wiki supports hyperlinks and has a simple text syntax for creating new pages and crosslinks between internal pages on the fly.

Wiki is unusual among group communication mechanisms in that it allows the organization of contributions to be edited in addition to the content itself.

Like many simple concepts, "open editing" has some profound and subtle effects on Wiki usage. Allowing everyday users to create and edit any page in a Web site is exciting in that it encourages democratic use of the Web and promotes content composition by nontechnical users.



From the site:

Socialtext provides a social software suite, with wikis, weblogs, and chat.

Socialtext has been taking basic wiki an chat tools and evolving them into a collaboration toolset.



From the site: "Wikispaces lets you create simple web pages that groups, friends, and families can edit together." An example wiki.



From the site: "Welcome to Wikia, a collection of communities with websites that you can edit.You can start a new Wikia in any language today, or explore, browse, and edit an existing." Free wikis are ad supported. The software used is MediaWiki, which is the base of the popular WikiPedia.

Social Networking Services
In 2002 a flood of new web based online networking services such as Friendster, Orkut, Linked In and many others started offering online tools to help people visualize and expand their personal and professional networks. Many of them blended in online interaction tools such as message boards, blogs and other tools to also foster community. The interesting pattern emerging from online social network tools is the promise of using groups to collaboratively filter information, connect people who have something in common, and find people who may have expertise you are looking for. You really have to think in terms of a network, with its host of interconnected nodes, rather than a bounded group, to see the promise of these tools. See also Online Interaction Tools Resource Sheet

Websites Listing, Reviewing Tools

Links will open new browser

contact us

Full Circle Associates
4616 25th Avenue NE PMB #126
Seattle, WA 98105
(206) 517-4754

© 1999-2006 Full Circle Associates - content
© 1999-2006 WWCoCo New Media - design and graphics