We use group chat extensively at RocketTheme. It has our central hub of communication, a quick and easy method of transferring files or sharing links, and a platform by which important information can be relayed to the team.
Our team members are located around the world, and without a reliable (and secure) chat and IM solution, we would have a difficult time getting even the smallest tasks done. We work together on just about everything, and having instant communication is essential.
We are always searching for a better solution to help our team stay in touch. Below, we have listed a few options that we have tried, and some initial thoughts.
HipChat is an excellent choice for any team that needs to keep in contact. It has a clean interface, great support for third-party integrations: Google Apps, GitHub, JIRA, ZenDesk, plus many more. Of course HipChat also provides a simple API to allow custom integrations as required. We are able to create a different room for each project, so our team can discuss them simultaneously without confusion, and also one-on-one conversations.
One of the best things about HipChat is just how easy it is to access. The Web client is very good, but there are also dedicated clients for OS X, Windows, Linux, iOS, and Android.
HipChat recently introduced one-on-one video chat and calls. The video chat is smooth, and screen sharing works fairly well, but it’s currently limited to one-on-one conversations.
Additionally, sharing files is a breeze. Using either the OS X or Windows client, you can click and drag a file into the text field and it uploads the file so that it is available to anyone in the room.
HipChat is free for teams of five, with a fee of $2.00 per user each month for any team of six or more members.
Hall is another excellent choice we came across over the past few months. It is available as a Web client, as well as for Windows, OS X, iOS, and Android.
Hall has excellent video conferencing support. We were able to set up a video conference with six people that looks great and responded very well. Screen sharing was a bit glitchy, with one of our team members having to completely leave and rejoin to stop the stream from their desktop to the group.
The best quality of Hall for us was the UI. It was easy to follow conversations and see who was typing at a glance thanks to the thumbnail images to the left of each line.
You can create persistent rooms in the form of groups. Search is easy to use, making finding older messages a simple process.
One downside to Hall is that you are unable to edit messages once they have been submitted. It also doesn’t appear to have any in-line code support.
Hall is free for the first 1-5 users. If your team has more than five users, the fee starts at $3 per person each month. Group video conferencing is available in the Enterprise plan, with upgrades possible in the standard Business plan.
Update: Hall is no longer available
Like many of the others, Slack has integrated API hooks that allow you to script your own tools to support your infrastructure.
When you upload or link a file through Slack, it is sorted and made available via the file browser in a way that is easy to find. You can sort files by type, by person, or star them to make sure they stand out from the rest. Slack’s universal search is also smooth and easy to use.
When someone begins typing, you can see a notification letting you know who is responding.
Slack’s pricing model starts at a free Lite plan that is free to try, but it is limited in how many third-party integrations you can use, and how many messages you can store and search. Its entry-level basic plan starts at $8 per user, each month.
Flowdock has a unique take on group chat and team collaboration. While it includes many of the same features we love in several of these other options (such as syntax highlighting, avatar integration in the chat area, file sharing, etc.) it behaves more like a productivity dashboard rather than a pure chat application.
Our initial tests were a bit riddled with confusion. The UI is split down the center of the screen with notifications appearing on the left-hand side and the chat room (or flow) appears on the right. You can create new flows (rooms) which appear in tabs along the top of the page.
Flowdock could be an incredible tool for teams that want to keep everything together in one place, but it may come across a little overwhelming to new users.
Flowdock has a free 30-day trial, after which its fees are set at $3 per user, each month.
RocketTheme is always on the lookout for a better solution for our team. At this time, we are using a combination of tools to keep in touch and collaborate on our various projects. We use HipChat as our primary group chat tool. It has performed well for us, and has a lot of the features we need available right out of the box. We can even script our own integrated utilities to help us keep track of customer service requests, tickets, server status, and updates through third-party versioning services like GitHub.
For group audio and video conferencing, we use GoToMeeting by Citrix. This is a pretty good tool for long-form conferences that we tend to keep up throughout the work day. This solution is not without its quirks, as it can get a little buggy during longer conference calls where users have a tendency to leave and rejoin.
As an alternative, we have used Google Hangouts as a backup for GoToMeeting when their service has been unavailable or acting flakey. Skype is also used by our team members from time-to-time, especially when connecting with people outside of RocketTheme.
One thing every solution listed here has in common is that it has a free trial available. The best way to find the right option for your team is to try them all, and figure out which one works best for you. We found a lot of features we loved with all of them, and many of them are shared between them. It always comes down to the one that offers the best value for the price, without leaving out those few features your team relies on the most.