Podio introduces real-time chat, facelift in newest update

Cloud workspace platform Podio introduced another round of fresh updates on Thursday, bringing exciting new functionality to the quickly evolving SaaS offering. Hot on the heels of a major UI facelift that was released back in late April, the newest refresh brings much requested real-time chat capability with online members of your various workspaces. For my company that uses Podio on a daily basis, these additions are definitely appreciated.

For those unfamiliar with the service, I provided a mostly positive in-depth review back in December of last year. For those who have never given Podio a spin, placing a label on what it "is" definitely takes a little effort since it is almost anything you want it to be. The product fills the gap of online task, project, and customer management that is much cheaper and flexible than any other mainstream CRM offering. It also correctly introduces the aspect of "professional social", something which Yammer forces down your throat -- but Podio makes feel like a natural fit.

Design Tweaks bring Subtle, Meaningful Changes to Podio

Podio has always had a fairly fluid online interface, but it was bugged by one large problem: the Workspace menu on the left-hand side took up nearly a quarter of the entire screen. While it may be useful to have a visual reference as to what workspace you are in at any given time, your intuition takes over after a certain point.

So Podio took the liberty to get rid of this throbbing nuisance and introduced a sliding, animated left-hand drop menu. This was a much needed change to the overall design of Podio, since working within workspaces requires more screen real estate, especially when you start working with very complex, data driven apps. Getting back a full quarter of screen real estate is the equivalent of buying a larger monitor just to see the same amount of information at once.

The Podio team also introduced some smaller, but also noticeable, UI tweaks to a few other aspects of the main screen. For one, the top blue nav bar is now host to an inbox shortcut (also called notifications) towards the right hand side of the screen instead of where it used to sit oddly towards the center. Much of this was changed intuitively to likely coincide with the introduction of the new Chat feature, which hugs the right hand side of the screen starting Thursday.

Search has also gotten some nice boosts, including some smart predictive search technology (straight out of Google's playbook) that also presents results in real time without the need to go to different screens. For multitasking hogs like me, this is a small but timesaving UI improvement.

If Social is Where it's at, then Live Chat is King

By far easily the biggest new feature added to Podio in the last six months has to be the introduction of live chat turned on yesterday. For someone that is dug into a few different Gmail chat windows each day for work purposes, this is exciting to try out. As my team continues to spend more time organizing projects and customer workflow in Podio, the fact that we can establish chats not only with eachother, but with invited customers, is a monumental change for the way we do daily business.

The new chat feature is not only 1-on-1, but you can have team chats with colleagues, or better yet -- full blown project team chats with customers and people from your company at the same time. If the users are a part of your workspaces, then you can use Podio as a full blown integrated chat platform built around the way you do work in the cloud. This is where Yammer falls short against Podio: in bringing external colleagues or customers into the conversation.

Chat brings with it some finer points as well. Conversations can continue onward even after you finish your most immediate chat, because Podio treats them as free-flowing ongoing thread instead of a separated, disparate phone call. And Podio's extremely powerful search capability is present even for chats, so you can look back and find nuggets of information from previous chats as easily as if they happened yesterday.

You can watch a short informative intro on Podio chat on YouTube.

Coming this Summer: Integrated Audio/Video Chat

If real time text chat doesn't suit your fancy, Podio is working away on introducing full blown audio and video chat within the product that should break down the communication barriers even further. Not much is yet known about the extent of the capabilities of these new rich multimedia features, but judging from first screenshots, the changes are going to turn Podio into a full fledged presence heavy online workspace platform.

Could Google Hangouts or even Lync be getting a run for their money from Podio? It's too early to say, but I like what I am seeing. As a dedicated Podio customer building out most of my business processes on the platform, it's reassuring to see that newfound owner Citrix did not give the Podio team the forgotten child treatment. As soon as Podio rolls out its planned rich multimedia functionality, I hope to present a revised review of the product focusing squarely on real time collaboration capabilities -- something which I don't think has been this drastically changed since the rise of Google Docs.

Podio is a SaaS powered workspace platform that runs 100% in the cloud, and is completely free for companies or organizations up to five people in size. External colleagues or customers you invite to join your workspaces are also completely free. For organizations over five people, the cost is only $9 USD/person. Pricing includes full access to the platform for internal workspaces and comes with access to the Android and iOS apps for mobile access. You can learn more over at Podio's website.

Derrick Wlodarz is an IT Specialist that owns Park Ridge, IL (USA) based technology consulting & service company FireLogic, with over 8+ years of IT experience in the private and public sectors. He holds numerous technical credentials from Microsoft, Google, and CompTIA and specializes in consulting customers on growing hot technologies such as Office 365, Google Apps, cloud hosted VoIP, among others. Derrick is an active member of CompTIA's Subject Matter Expert Technical Advisory Council that shapes the future of CompTIA exams across the world. You can reach him at derrick at wlodarz dot net.

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