Grouptivity: Using the Social Web to Build Consensus

Does this sound familiar? You send an email out to 4 or 5 of your co-workers or client contacts trying to set up a meeting or get consensus on an idea. 15 “reply to all” emails later and you now know what everyone’s holidays plans are, what they’re having for lunch, and maybe what their favorite color schemes are…but you are no closer to a firm decision on whether or not you can have that conference call next Tuesday.

Grouptivity is a free web application that promises to take the hassle out of online planning and group email decision making. Aimed at the MySpace/Facebook crowd looking to leverage the social web, but with practical use for the web worker.

Don’t let the awkward design of the website throw you off. Unlike other Web 2.0 services that head for their public beta with a beautiful website and not much more, Grouptivity has a lot more under the surface. Still, some more time working on the front end couldn’t hurt the developers’ chances of getting this service firmly off the ground.

Once registered, you can start building your address book by importing your contacts from a CSV file, or ask Grouptivity to import your Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail or AOL address books (name and email address only). You can create groups to keep your personal contacts separate from co-workers and other categories. This is helpful if you are sending these group emails to the same sets of people over and over again.

Composing a new email looks ordinary at first. The power is when you select “More Options” to add survey questions directly to the email. The software comes with preconfigured templates, but I don’t think the web worker is going to find templates such as “Plan a Trip to Hawaii” very helpful. Unfortunately, I don’t believe there is yet a mechanism for saving/deleting custom templates.

So let’s say you want to plan a meeting…start with a template…

All the questions are editable through an easy interface. Add your contacts (up to 30 slots are provided by default, you have to ask for more slots if you need them), add an event (which is buggy in Mac browsers) and send your email.

Your recipients receive an email that looks something like this. It would be more helpful if the email contained the survey questions.

When they hit “Reply” an account is automatically created for them on Grouptivity linked to their email address. There is language at the bottom of the email that states “By clicking to the Reply button you agree to the Terms and Conditions of Grouptivity.” For your contacts that you have not yet introduced to the service, this might make them nervous and hesitant to click through. I’m also not in love with the part of the email that read: “Note: Please do not forward this message, the recipient will get access to your account.” I learned quite some time ago that “Do not reply” and “Do not forward” are two phrases that are often ignored by folks trying to manage a busy inbox.

Once on the Grouptivity website, the recipients can answer the survey questions, reply to the person who sent the email or send an email to everyone. Later, that person is sent access information so they can log in to Grouptivity and monitor the activity on the groupmail or create their own.

RSS feeds are available to keep up with replies (and they can be set to go to the actual email address). The easy-to-read reports can be exported to Excel…helpful if there are a lot of recipients and/or a lot of questions:

The “About Us” link only talks about the service. It doesn’t say anything about the people behind it. This may very be the only social web application without a blog or forum. Support is only via email, and it’s not clear how the service plans to be profitable through advertising as there are currently no ads on the site.

Bottom line: Grouptivity shows promise, and I may very well actively use it in my workflow when I want a quick yes/no answer on an issue from multiple contacts without wading through a lot of the email chatter. A lot of what doesn’t work about this service may very well work itself out in the beta process, provided the developers are still actively committed to the product.