Teleworker-Work from home, Part 2

September 14, 2008

4. Online conferencing: Dimdim

Most meetings aren’t about being face-to-face. You’re usually not looking at people as much as materials—presentations, whiteboards, and the like. Tools to assist with such presentations go back to the beginning of the Internet, but the latest are more advanced than ever.

Dimdim is easy, because there’s no software to install; you use the Web browser to host or sit in on meetings. The free option suffices for up to 20 people. Businesses that want more—say, 100 attendees and a custom-branded online meeting room—can pay $99 per year. While you’re in a meeting you can chat publicly or privately with other attendees, and in the paid versions you can engage in two-way video chats as well.

That sounds like the usual offering, but what you really need is the ability to share presentations with others. Dimdim’s got that. And sharing whiteboards? Check. Share your own desktop, to show what can be done in Windows or Macintosh? Check and check. When the office needs to show you something, or vice versa, Dimdim is there.

Other options: Cisco’s respected WebEx is still available, but check out similarly named newbies Yuuguu, Yugma, and Vyew, too.

5. Instant messaging: Meebo

The real-time benefits of instant messaging need no hype. If you’ve used IM to communicate with friends or colleagues, you know what a time-saver it is, and how useful it can be to reread archived conversations. The problem is that for the most part, the major IM networks don’t talk to each other—that’s AIM, Yahoo!, Microsoft, and Google’s Gtalk, to name the four biggies. Thus, you probably have accounts on all of them so you can talk to everyone you know.

If so, you need a multi-protocol IM client. There are several, but it’s hard to beat Meebo for sheer simplicity and price (free). You don’t need to install a thing, it’s entirely Web-based. You don’t even need an account with Meebo to sign into one IM network at a time. If you do sign up, Meebo can log you into all four IM networks at once, with one giant buddy list. Got more than one AIM account? Multiple Gtalk accounts? You can have Meebo sign into all of them simultaneously.

The Meebo Rooms feature lets you create chat areas to use with anyone, even guests who aren’t regular Meebo users. Inside the room, users can share media files. Some are public, and would remind you of an old-school AOL chat from the early ’90s, but with music. Create a private, password-protected room instead to chat with your coworkers. If the room is public, you can also embed it in a Web page.

Other options: Downloadable multi-protocol IM clients abound, including Trillian, Pidgin, and Digsby, but new Web-based services are popping up all the time, including and

6. Meeting scheduler: TimeBridge

TimeBridge, a PC Mag Editors’ Choice, sets up meetings for those with unrelated scheduling systems. You’ve got Outlook, she’s got Google Calender, he’s got Thunderbird, and so on. Instead of the usual phone-tag back-and-forth, and worry about who is in which time zone or even what country, you just send out the invites, and TimeBridge handles the confirmations and reminders. You need know only the e-mail addresses of each invitee.

Invitees receive a message with the options for a meeting time; they don’t need a TimeBridge account to reply. As the inviter, you get a message if your various invitees can’t make it at the proposed times. Once the meeting is set, everyone gets an e-mail confirmation with links to import the info into various calendars, including Google, Outlook, Yahoo!, and Apple’s iCal.

TimeBridge plans to add premium, for-pay features in the future, but core functionality will probably remain free. One the whole, the service adds convenience if your life is nonstop meetings—and you prefer a calendar different from the one used in the office.


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