Justin du Coeur (jducoeur) wrote,
Justin du Coeur

What I've been doing for the past year

Forgive me a blatant plug, but this is what I've been working on for the past couple of years, and now that ASAP Express has been properly unveiled I think it's time to talk it up a little. Besides, as I'll describe below, it's specifically relevant to LJ this time around.

ASAP is a curious little tool -- it's either a superpowered IM system or a simplified Web Conferencing system, depending on how you look at it. When you sign up for it, you get a little console, much like the one for Windows Messenger or AIM or suchlike, letting you set up chat sessions but with a bunch of extra functionality.

Some of you took a look at the beta for ASAP 1.0. A number of new features have been added for 2.1. Probably the most important is ASAP Links. If you're an ASAP user, you can publish a "link" on your blog, email signature or wherever. This link shows your current presence to the reader -- if they click on the presence, it fires up a meeting with you. They don't have to download anything: the system is Flash-based, so it works with about 95% of all browsers. It'll even do audio & video meetings if you have a microphone and/or camera.

So for example, the below is my ASAP link:

<input ... >Talk to Justin if available!

If this says that I'm available, it means that you can just click on it to chat with me. (I'm actually unavailable most of the time, I'm afraid -- since I'm the core server developer, I'm usually pointing to the development servers instead of the real ones. But this week I should be online a bunch.) Please feel free to try it out. It works best with a broadband connection of some sort -- while the meeting doesn't require any download, it's a pretty hefty Flash movie, and can take a while to fetch over a slow pipe. I've also put this link into my Bio, so it should be permanently available.

For those who are curious, here are some of the other goodies in the system:

In meetings, ASAP has integrated screen sharing, again thanks to the stuff hidden inside Flash. You can declare a screen-sharing session and instantly show what's going on in a window or on the whole screen. This is really useful when trying to explain how something works. It also has special gadgetry for sharing PowerPoint presentations -- not exactly a key feature for most of my friends, but often useful in a business setting.

The Meet ASAP feature was one of the first ones we created, and is still one of my favorites for business use. You can declare that you need to meet with, say, five other ASAP users at the first opportunity. The system will keep track of that request, and the next time all of you are available, it will tell you that you can start the meeting now. It'll keep tracking this for you until you either have the meeting or cancel the request.

Scheduled Meetings are one of our particularly WebEx-like features. You can say that you will be having a meeting at, say, 3pm tomorrow. ASAP will send you an email that you can forward to everyone you want in the meeting, with a web link in it; if you want, you can get this meeting in iCal format, which imports into most kinds of appointment books. At the scheduled time, people just click on the link, enter their name and email address, and *poof* -- they're in the meeting.

Lifelines are probably the most powerful feature in the system, although they're only available in the ASAP Pro version. The Lifeline is a bunch of people, any of which might be contacted for the same purpose -- for example, a lot of companies are creating IT Support Lifelines. They show up as a single presence: if anyone in the Lifeline is Available, then the Lifeline shows up as Available. When someone tries to contact the Lifeline, they get any one of those people in a meeting, to work on the issue. Lifelines can also be published as Links, just like people can, so you can create things like Sales Lifelines that you put on a web page: if someone wants to get in touch with your Sales Department, they just click on the link and instantly get an audio/video meeting with one of the salespeople. (In fact, that's how we're doing our own sales.)

The thing that's really new this month is the restructuring of the prices, and particularly the release of ASAP Express, which is a free version of the product. It's specifically aimed at the blog community, to do exactly what I did above: you can publish your link in your blog to make yourself available for outside contact. While the ASAP Console only runs on Windows still (sorry about that -- the usual economic constraints), anyone can contact you: since the meetings themselves are strictly Flash-based, they run on almost all browsers and operating systems.

Before anyone asks, the catch is that ASAP Express is only free for two-person meetings. That's generally fine for most casual chats, but not enough for many business purposes, which is why it was set up this way. If you add more people into a meeting, there's a substantial charge (15 cents/minute, so somewhere between the cost of long distance and roaming). Really, the point is to convince people that it's a useful business tool and upgrade to ASAP Pro, which costs $250/year and lets you get unlimited meetings of up to 15 people. $250/year sounds like a lot, but from a business viewpoint it's actually pretty cheap given how powerful the system is. We're not really competing with things like AIM -- rather, we're mostly focused on WebEx, which costs easily ten times that much.

Okay, enough advertisement. I encourage y'all to download it and try it out. Like I said, the whole point of ASAP Express is to come up with a blog-friendly version of the system. Please ask questions if you have them -- my self-appointed mission right now is to evangelize a little around LJ. So please spread the word...
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