Need help with a system (portal?) for client communication.
October 16, 2007 3:46 PM   Subscribe

I am needing a portal for multiple-client sign-in. I want my clients to be able to go to a common front page and enter their username and password and be taken to an area just for them. There will be messaging, files, video, audio, photos, etc. that is just for their use. Each client would need an area with their material. I have around 20-25 clients. I probably need no more than 250MB of storage for their "stuff' per client. What do I do? Something ready-to-go and hosted? Something I run from my own shared server? I'm not even sure what I am needing is called. Any comments/suggestions appreciated - thanks for the help!
posted by Gerard Sorme to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Have you considered basecamp? For what your current configuration you'd be looking at $99 a month. See if you can get it down to a total of 3 GB, that's only $49 a month.
posted by whitneykitty at 4:12 PM on October 16, 2007

Response by poster: I could have a "home page" with the ability for all the clients to have their own "space" for communication, sharing of work, etc? I'll take a look at Basecamp. What exactly is this kind of thing I need actually called? Thanks for the idea!
posted by Gerard Sorme at 4:22 PM on October 16, 2007

I could have a "home page" with the ability for all the clients to have their own "space" for communication, sharing of work, etc?

Yes, that's just what Basecamp does. It's pretty great.
posted by lemuria at 4:46 PM on October 16, 2007

Response by poster: I just took a look at Basecamp and it looks very nice. I'm familiar with Backpack, so when I realized it was a 37 Signals product, I knew what to expect. I don't like the 'markup' language is my biggest problem. I am an HTML WYSIWYG kind of guy and I'm not sure if that's a deal killer.

Here's another thought that someone sent me via email:

"What about the Typepad service with the pro or premium account? Both accounts allow for unlimited blogs. You could actually create a password-protected blog for each client. You're looking at about $39.95 a month. You can write messages, articles, embed audio and/or video, have static pages, and the comments section can be used for messaging on any given client project. I do this very thing with my clinical psychology practice and have found it works beautifully. You might want to look into Typepad and give it some consideration, it really works well for things as you described them. Good luck!"

(I removed some private comments, which is why she sent it via email, and asked permission to post)

Hmmm.....that's really not a bad idea. I looked at Typepad and she's right - unlimited blogs and all can be password protected. Any thoughts on this as a possible solution?
posted by Gerard Sorme at 4:55 PM on October 16, 2007

Response by poster: I just looked at Typepad and saw that I can get 3GB of storage and unlimited blogs (all can be password protected) for $29.95 a month. Anybody want to weigh in with pros/cons? I like Basecamp, but the 'markup' language is not very user-friendly (to me, anyway). I just had never thought of a BLOG as being a possible solution. But it's not a bad idea. Any thoughts on other services, products I might be missing? Any pros and cons on Basecamp & Typepad would be appreciated. Thanks everyone.
posted by Gerard Sorme at 5:25 PM on October 16, 2007

Best answer: I think Basecamp is really a lot closer to what you're describing than Typepad, although I suppose you could use blogs if you really want to. It seems like a kludge, though.

Basecamp gets you documents, but also gives you messaging, file sharing, time tracking / milestones, and I think even multiuser chat through a Java applet.

Frankly, I think you'd be silly to avoid Basecamp simply because it uses markup. Lots of people use text-based markup languages every day; it's not nearly as intimidating as I think you think it is. You barely need to use the markup if you don't want to (you don't need it for anything but the freeform Writeboard documents), and you can always upload a regular word-processing document to the Files area for heavily formatted documents.

Plus, a lot of older staff may have used markup in the past with older (late 80s / early 90s) word processing systems, and younger employees have probably used UBB code or something similar. And the markup is dead simple; *bold* _italic_ and a few simple tags for headers ("h1. Header") are as complicated as it gets. It's not assembler we're talking about here. Heck, it's not even HTML or UBB.

And the collaborative writing features make it a lot more useful, IMO, than a blog, where you're limited mostly to commenting or editing without change-tracking. The only thing that gets close to this is Microsoft Office combined with Sharepoint, which is much more cumbersome and expensive.

The only limitation is that sadly, it's not available as a package for you to self-host; you have to get it as a hosted service from 37signals, which may be a deal-breaker if you deal with sensitive information or if you have a very paranoid culture.

But really, while I'm not saying it's perfect, I think it's a clear winner over a blog -- it's at least designed for exactly what you're doing.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:12 PM on October 16, 2007

Actually, on further thought, the one other service that does come close (at least in the collaborative-writing arena) would be Google Apps for Domains, which combined with Gmail for your domain (at the "premier" level, I think) would probably get you most of the features of Basecamp. You'd get email, chat, collaborative documents, calendaring, a customized portal page, and tools for easily publishing documents on the web.

I don't know much else about it though, and I haven't evaluated it ... might be worth checking it out and seeing if they have a free trial. You could sign yourself up for it and Basecamp, and see which seems to fit your company best.

Basecamp seems to be a little slicker when it comes to file sharing and time tracking, but Google might be easier on the users since it's probably nothing too new or different.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:20 PM on October 16, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks, Kadin2048, I think you sold me on Basecamp. You are right in that it was designed for exactly my purposes. The markup hangup is silly, you're right; and all the elements I need are there in a tightly integrated user-friendly way. It just makes sense. Thanks for being honest and giving me the wake-up call on markup. Many thanks!
posted by Gerard Sorme at 7:44 PM on October 16, 2007

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