Hall packs team communication in sexy design and poses as a great Yammer alternative
It turns out those, made by Danny Keane, were related to Hall, a product for company collaboration with a clean design, and very efficient approach to communication between co-workers.
The company was founded by Brett Hellman and Ron Adams. Its a clear take on Yammer, the current big player on that arena. Other competitors, according to Brett, are Chatter, JIVE and BOX.
Hall comes in two flavours. The Power Plan, for individuals and small teams, is free, with 1GB of on-line storage (that you are going to use whenever you share files with your staff) and video chat for up six people.
The Enterprise Grade is their paid option, with 25GB of storage, up to 15 users on video conference and access to a whole set of admin features, such as unarchiving old chat rooms and versioning. Reporting and keyword filtering are also part of the package. The price is not stated at the page, but Brett tells me it will range from US$ 5.00 to US$ 15.00 per user, per month.
This review will be based on the free Power Plan.
The rooms structure
To sign in with Hall you first provide your work e-mail. All user of your network must use the same domain name in order to be grouped in the system. An integration with Google Apps lets you select people from your company more easily.
Inside Hall, everything happens in chat-like spaces, or simply Rooms. You create as many rooms as you like and invite people to join. Rooms can be set to Open, meaning anyone in your network can join, or Invite only. In that case, just current members of the room can bring other people inside.
Although Hall will understand your company's network and set a private environment for those inside it, you can actually add external networks - other companies - and their contacts. Anyone in the Hall system can be added as a contact and you can talk directly to those on a One to one chat room.
Unlike Yammer, and other status driven apps, Hall shows updates from top to bottom. This could bother some users as they have to constantly scroll down to see what's new.
Emoticons typed during conversations turn into dreadful Emoji symbols. A bit of a stain over the super nice design. That could be left out with great benefit.
In the free version you can't delete anything. No edits for what's posted as well. What's there is there. It's not even possible to delete the rooms you create. You can archive them and never see them again (although they still remain in the system), but not remove them completely.
Files and notes
One of the nicest features of Hall is the ability to share files with people inside your rooms. As long as you don't beat your total storage space, you can publish images, videos, PDFs or whatever you would in a regular e-mail attachment. Those will be linked directly in the room timeline and images will appear with inline previews.
The coolest thing is Notes. Add one and you're taken to a collaborative notepad. Everybody in your room can simultaneously edit the notes you create. Each member is colour coded so you see what everyone is editing in real time. Hit a neat clock icon and playback the whole history of changes. A perfect meeting note taking tool.
Although files and notes show up in the room feed, it's easy to access just those items. A click on notes or files will bring a list of everything created inside the room.
Members of any room can start and join video conferences with up to six people on the Power Plan and as many as 15 on the Enterprise Grade. Here at our studio, we've tested with four people and the performance was excellent.
Screen sharing is done in the same video session. And you don't have to share your entire universe - thus revealing every bit of what you're looking at. You simply select an specific window to share and everyone in the group will see just that, even if you toggle between your opened windows during the process.
Desktop, mobile and a few hiccups
There's an app for using Hall on the desktop. It's an Adobe Air piece, so it runs the same way on Windows and Mac. The experience mimics the web interface precisely. We've noticed a few glitches, like the weekday name showing up as "undefined", instead of Wednesday and the room list not appearing at the home page of the network.
One little annoyance of the desktop app is the use of a proprietary notification window, very "air-like" and not integrated with Mountain Lion's Notification Center. Connection with Growl doesn't happen either, otherwise that would be an option to bypass the default layout.
The iOS version is quite simplistic and reduces the experience to chats and file browsing only. But its a nice catch for talking with the team on the go. It feels a bit like a cleaner version of the Facebook Messages app.
Hall is the app I have been waiting for since Yammer came along. It's team communication done right, with style, speed and focus on what really matters.
Sure the product can grow a lot - tags and inline previews for external media would be nice - but it's not hard to see Hall as a major step forward compared to other solutions.
Workers of creative studios value the look and feel of these tools to a great measure (I can't buy and use ugly apps). Most of the options around either look terrible or are bloated with features that make the experience a pain. Sometimes both.
Hall is a breeze to use and a great experience. You should definitely give it a try.