The Way We Work
November 11, 2009 by Christopher Smith

iStock_000003865112XSmallIn case you haven’t noticed, there are approximately 3 billion different ways in which friends, relatives, clients, freelancers, employers, and anyone else riding the World Wide Web can communicate. Okay, so maybe I can’t back that number up, but the point is, there are enough communications-based software suites, stand-alone programs, freeware downloads, payware applications, and other nifty add-ons to help ensure that even your mother-in-law can stay in the loop. Some of these applications are basic chat programs, while others offer everything from video conferencing, online document sharing, and even real-time brainstorming and document editing in virtual online meetings. Whether you’re a part-time freelancer with just a couple clients, or a swamped buyer with a large staff of contractors working on multiple projects, these five communications keepers should be close at hand.

Skype

skype

Skype offers users high-quality voice and/or video chat to any other Skype user in the world, free of charge. Let me put that another way: Free international voice/video conversations in a professional, high quality application. The only fees associated with Skype are for calls made to traditional land lines or cell phones, but then again, isn’t that what a normal telephone is for? Skype is one of the most popular online communications tools, and it should be a staple for anyone who makes a living through the internet.

Eyejot

eyejot

Eyejot is the exact opposite of text-messaging, in that it uses a web interface to send and receive video messages through email. Eyejot is convenient in that it requires no special install or client, it works with just about any web browser, it’s free to download and use, and the video emails can be sent to any valid email address. In an era where people fanatically send text messages over a phone, sending video messages in an email seems deliciously ironic.

Digsby

digsby

Digsby is ideal for social networking aficionados seeking a single interface to manage communications across multiple platforms, including personal email accounts, social networking sites such as Facebook, and popular chat programs like Yahoo Messenger, all with a single login. Users can also respond to individual sites through Digsby, or issue a general posting to all sites under the Digsby umbrella.  And since Digsby is free to use, it could be the most convenient piece of communications software you never had to buy.

AIM Pro

aimpro

AOL’s dressed-up, free-to-use, Instant Messenger professional edition offers some impressive resources for online communications, including video conferencing, integration with Microsoft Outlook, encrypted communications, and when partnered with WebEx (see below), secure online file sharing.

WebEx

webex

Cisco’s WebEx is the only item on this list that actually costs money to use, but it’s also arguably the best web-based meeting software available. It features a relatively simple interface that allows users to set up virtual meetings complete with voice chat and video conferencing, secure connections, file hosting, desktop sharing, and real-time file corrections for anyone participating in the meeting. If your workweek consists of daily brainstorming sessions or regular project updates, shelling out $59 per month for WebEx isn’t such a bad deal.

These are but a few of the tools available to both buyers and providers in the quest to keep the lines of communication open. Have you any other offerings to add? Tell us about the must-have communications suites you use to keep in touch with your associates!