Email has been around for a few decades and in the last decade it hasn’t changed very much from its original structure. The nature of email is that it’s a person-to-person communication, which serves most users just fine, except when trying to communicate between a group. Email messages pile up and it becomes difficult to figure out who communicated what message and when. In that case what you really need is more akin to a digital bulletin board or, as the tech industry has begun to call it within the last few years, a collaborative workspace.
Collaborative workspace enables many users to view, make changes, and add comments to a document, page, or idea. (Google Wave and Zenbe Shareflow are examples of collaborative workspace programs.) The problem with many of these programs is that they don’t integrate very smoothly with email, at least not yet. You’re still left with two inboxes to check and it necessitates that everyone in the group needs to agree to use the same program. Then all of the users needs to sign-up and learn how this new program works, which can be problematic.
Cc:Betty is a free website that solves the group-discussion problem, has a super-quick sign-up process, and neatly integrates email. Instead of a having long list of messages scattered through your inbox, cc:Betty creates a collaborative discussion page on which users can comment. What’s even better is that Cc:Betty’s interface is intuitive enough for virtually any user to feel comfortable using immediately, which eliminates the need for hand-holding, which in turn increases productivity and saves everyone involved precious time and sanity.
How cc:Betty Works
Cc:Betty is a group email assistant, meaning that it helps a group of email users keep track of discussions by grouping messages in a private, online, collaborative space and parsing out pertinent data. Discussions can be started in two ways: after a quick sign-up process, you can login to the Cc:Betty website and create one manually or you can simply add email@example.com to the “cc” field in an email.
After creating a discussion, Betty will email a link to the discussion page to all users involved (any users you included in the “To:” field in your initial email or any users that you add later through the Cc:Betty website). Betty will then parse out images, contacts, files, links, and calendar dates and group them under tabs. Every time a comment is added or any kind of change happens to the discussion, Betty will email all users involved, who can then leave their own comment on the discussion page.
Layout / Features
The Cc:Betty website is organized, inviting, and carries what might otherwise be a corny “Betty Page” theme with aplomb. The site is divided into “Discussions” and “People”. The “People” area lists the people whom you’ve invited to cc:Betty discussions or imported from a contact list, while the “Discussions” area lists all of your discussions, when they were created, how many people are involved, and when the discussion was last updated. Each discussion is presented as a separate webpage, where you can add/remove users and their comments, find out when comments were made, and expand/collapse comments at will.
Features included in the Cc:Betty website include an inline calendar program for keeping track of scheduled events, an image browser, and a variety of ways to alert/remind people to respond to the discussion via email. Cc:Betty also links up with Facebook and Twitter, allowing you to reply to discussions directly from either application.
A Few Problems
There is a lack of search functionality, which would be helpful when your discussions begin to pile up. Additionally, the fact that Betty emails you every time anything happens on any of your discussion pages can feel a little like spam (albeit helpful spam that is merely doing what you told it to do). Useful additions might be a to-do list and perhaps a way to link up with your email client’s calendar.
On the layout side, there are some incongruities with text link menus and I encountered a handful of dead links while browsing through the Cc:Betty website. Keep in mind that the service is still technically in beta and hopefully the kinks will be ironed out.
The Bottom Line
For communicating with a group, Cc:Betty is an invaluable tool and easy to use. Small groups can use the service to keep track of deadlines and coordinate meetings, while a group of friends could use the service to discuss an upcoming gathering privately. There are many ways to use Cc:Betty, and with a load of useful features already available, I have high hopes for what we might see in the future from Betty. One can only hope the developers keep the service free.