TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Near-Time's Flow

Volume Number: 21 (2005)
Issue Number: 3
Column Tag: Review

Focus Review

by Lesa Snider

Near-Time's Flow

Peer-to-peer Content and Knowledge Management for Panther

What do you get when you cross iChat, Safari, an RSS news reader, Microsoft Word, Adobe GoLive, and a handful of other popular productivity tools? You get Near-Time Flow; an extremely fascinating and powerful content/knowledge management, collaborative workflow solution for Panther.

Released this past June post-WWDC, Flow is virtually impossible to categorize as a single piece of software. After spending some quality time with it, though, you come to understand that it is part WYSIWYG web editor, RSS aggregator, word processor, outline tool, email client, and then some. This unique, hypertext-based software is targeted to both individuals and work groups of any size. It's an authoring tool, a gathering tool, an organizational tool, a collaboration tool... it should have a big red S emblazoned on its box!


Figure 1. Your Flow Space lists Folios, Shared Spaces, other Flow users within those spaces, and available servers.

Creating, gathering, and organizing

Life within Flow happens in two windows simultaneously, metaphorically dubbed Flow Space and Folio. From within your Flow Space you can create multiple Folios specific to your projects that can be shared or kept private. Once you've created a Folio, you can add any type of file by dragging it into the Pages pane of the Folio window where everything appears in an orderly list that can be arranged to suit your needs. Add RSS feeds, web pages, images, and other documents and enjoy the bliss of managing, viewing, and commenting on them all in one convenient place, within a single interface. It even dutifully alerts you when an updated RSS feed is available by placing a blue dot beside it. To gain an appreciation of how easy and powerful the Folio metaphor is, visit Near-Time's web site and watch the QuickTime movies illustrating several of Flow's key features.

You can also create new content in either text or HTML format, yielding a native Flow document. I found the Ruler option to be quite handy in this process, though text formatting is handled via a drop-down window similar to--and as inconvenient as--that found in Keynote. You can link content pages together by simply dragging them from the Pages list to the Content area of another. Add web pages and RSS feeds by dragging the URL straight into your Folio from a browser's address bar.


Figure 2. From within a Folio you can view content assets such as live URLs and more.

Sharing and publishing

Not only does Flow allow you to gather and organize all of your project documents, it gives you the ability to share and publish them out to others as well; Flow users or not. These options include:

  • sharing Folios through Rendezvous or other internal network
  • sharing Folios through Real-Time's server with other Flow users (available for free for one month after purchase, then $29.95 per year thereafter)
  • publishing Folios in web site form to an iDisk or other server

Once a Folio is shared, all files--even those of external origin--are transferred back and forth between the Flow users within a Shared Space. The touch of a button activates a manual sync, though Flow checks periodically and notifies you of any content updates with the aforementioned appearance of blue dots. Unfortunately, a major flaw showed up during testing when Flow became confused as to who had edited the last version of an Excel spreadsheet, and caused both my colleague and I to lose changes the other had made. Similar losses occurred with comments made on an Adobe InDesign file. The sharing process worked flawlessly with native Flow documents, RSS feeds, and web pages.

Flow supports version tracking on all content through a convenient date/time stamp bar at the bottom of each Folio document. Not only can you see when a document was edited, marked, or commented upon, but you can also see who made the change. I was impressed to find that Flow also accounts for differences in time zones between users in a Shared Space while testing its collaboration features with my colleague on the East coast. The Folio workspace itself would benefit from more standard controls for text editing (bold, italic, etc.) instead of the drop-down menu, as well as some visual cue as to what mode one is in, especially when invoking changes. I kept forgetting to click the Make Changes button at the bottom of my Folio window while trying to add comments to a document.

The publishing aspect of Flow is effective, allowing the creation of visually pleasing project web sites with a single button-press, enabling the sharing of Folios between those who use Flow and those who do not. We experienced a few problems when publishing a Folio to an iDisk: native Flow documents, linked URLs and RSS feeds uploaded flawlessly; however, attached files (Excel spreadsheets, InDesign documents, etc.) were included only part of the time--sometimes they would be uploaded to the server and sometimes not. To Flow's credit, it gleans iDisk data from your System Preferences; however, you must manually enter your iDisk password. Flow failed to snag it on both my and my review partner's system.

Smart Folios, blogging, and searching

Another impressive Flow feature is the Smart Folio option. By creating rules you can automatically and dynamically aggregate information from various sources. The concept is similar to Smart Playlists in iTunes and is at least as useful, especially as a project expands both in size, and number of team members involved.

If you are interested in the ever-expanding world of blogging, you will find Flow's options to create content and publish to Moveable Type, TypePad, Wordpress, or Blogger extremely useful. Simple, one-button uploads to your blog may be a compelling reason to give Flow a try.

Flow's sophisticated Search feature performed flawlessly. The best way to appreciate it is to open an existing Flow document (e.g. the included User's Guide), and then query it using a search panel that looks suspiciously like the one in Panther's Finder. It then creates a brand new page with all the results listed, highlighting the search terms as hyperlinks back to the appropriate section of the documentation. One can easily imagine how publishing this page to other Flow users would facilitate work on specific aspects of any project.

Final word

As a single, individual project management and authoring tool, Flow largely lives up to its claims. You can easily and effectively collect and manage the assets of a particular project within the Flow Space and Folio metaphors. As long as you're working with assets that Flow understands and can edit, it is also an effective collaborative tool, making the sharing of project documents between development teams and departments much easier than via email.

Flow's kryptonite, if you will, seems to be only when you mix in files that the program does not understand and must handle as attachments--that's where it became less reliable. The program is priced to be accessible to anyone who has serious collaborative needs, and is powerful enough to be at the top of the line of a new category of productivity software, once a few of the inconsistencies are worked out. To get a full appreciation for what Flow can do, you will need to climb a significant learning curve, though the trip is worth it to access the software's power for your projects.

You can try it for 30 days for free by downloading the trial version from the company's web site at http://www.near-time.com. The cost for a single seat is $99.90, and a ten user license is $859.95, a respectable value to be certain.


Lesa Snider is the owner of Flying Fingers (www.flyfingers.com), a creative new media firm specializing in web site visibility. She provides private and corporate training and consulting on web site marketing techniques, interface design, and search engine optimization, as well as a variety of design disciplines.

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

BBEdit 11.6.4 - Powerful text and HTML e...
BBEdit is the leading professional HTML and text editor for the Mac. Specifically crafted in response to the needs of Web authors and software developers, this award-winning product provides a... Read more
beaTunes 4.6.12 - Organize your music co...
beaTunes is a full-featured music player and organizational tool for music collections. How well organized is your music Library? Are your artists always spelled the same way? Any R.E.M. vs REM?... Read more
Tinderbox 7.0.1 - Store and organize you...
Tinderbox is a personal content management assistant. It stores your notes, ideas, and plans. It can help you organize and understand them. And Tinderbox helps you share ideas through Web journals... Read more
FotoMagico 5.4 - Powerful slideshow crea...
FotoMagico lets you create professional slideshows from your photos and music with just a few, simple mouse clicks. It sports a very clean and intuitive yet powerful user interface. High image... Read more
Direct Mail 4.3.9 - Create and send grea...
Direct Mail is an easy-to-use, fully-featured email marketing app purpose-built for OS X. It lets you create and send great looking email campaigns. Start your newsletter by selecting from a gallery... Read more
Tinderbox 7.0.1 - Store and organize you...
Tinderbox is a personal content management assistant. It stores your notes, ideas, and plans. It can help you organize and understand them. And Tinderbox helps you share ideas through Web journals... Read more
Direct Mail 4.3.9 - Create and send grea...
Direct Mail is an easy-to-use, fully-featured email marketing app purpose-built for OS X. It lets you create and send great looking email campaigns. Start your newsletter by selecting from a gallery... Read more
FotoMagico 5.4 - Powerful slideshow crea...
FotoMagico lets you create professional slideshows from your photos and music with just a few, simple mouse clicks. It sports a very clean and intuitive yet powerful user interface. High image... Read more
beaTunes 4.6.12 - Organize your music co...
beaTunes is a full-featured music player and organizational tool for music collections. How well organized is your music Library? Are your artists always spelled the same way? Any R.E.M. vs REM?... Read more
Spotify 1.0.49.125. - Stream music, crea...
Spotify is a streaming music service that gives you on-demand access to millions of songs. Whether you like driving rock, silky R&B, or grandiose classical music, Spotify's massive catalogue puts... Read more

The best sales on the App Store this wee...
The App Store has quite an exciting lineup of discount games this week that range across a variety of genres. It's a great opportunity to catch up on some of the premium games you may have been holding off on -- and some you can even grab for free... | Read more »
The best new games we played this week
Ah, here we are again at the close of another busy week. Don't rest too easy, though. We had a lot of great new releases in mobile games this week, and now you're going to have to spend all weekend playing them. That shouldn't be too much of a... | Read more »
Rollercoaster Tycoon Touch Guide: How to...
| Read more »
Rabbids Crazy Rush Guide: How to unlock...
The Rabbids are back in a new endless running adventure, Rabbids Crazy Rush. It's more ridiculous cartoon craziness as you help the little furballs gather enough fuel (soda) to get to the moon. Sure, it's a silly idea, but everyone has dreams --... | Read more »
Tavern Guardians (Games)
Tavern Guardians 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Tavern Guardians is a Hack-and-Slash action game played in the style of a match-three. You can experience high pace action... | Read more »
Slay your way to glory in idle RPG Endle...
It’s a golden age for idle games on the mobile market, and those addictive little clickers have a new best friend. South Korean developer Ekkorr released Endless Frontier last year, and players have been idling away the hours in the company of its... | Read more »
Tiny Striker: World Football Guide - How...
| Read more »
Good news everyone! Futurama: Worlds of...
Futurama is finding a new home on mobile in TinyCo and Fox Interactive's new game, Futurama: Worlds of Tomorrow. They're really doing it up, bringing on board Futurama creator Matt Groening along with the original cast and writers. TinyCo wants... | Read more »
MUL.MASH.TAB.BA.GAL.GAL (Games)
MUL.MASH.TAB.BA.GAL.GAL 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: ENDLESS UPGRADES. CONSTANT DANGER. ANCIENT WISDOM. BOUNCY BALLS. Launch Sale, 40% OFF for a very limited time!!! MUL.... | Read more »
Dungeon Rushers (Games)
Dungeon Rushers 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Dungeon Rushers is a 2D tactical RPG combining dungeon crawler’s gameplay and turn based fights. Manage your team, loot dusty... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

13-inch 2.0GHz Apple MacBook Pros on sale for...
B&H has the non-Touch Bar 13″ 2.0GHz MacBook Pros in stock today and on sale for $100 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 13″ 2.0GHz MacBook Pro Space Gray (... Read more
15-inch Touch Bar MacBook Pros on sale for up...
B&H Photo has the new 2016 15″ Apple Touch Bar MacBook Pros in stock today and on sale for up to $150 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 15″ 2.7GHz Touch Bar... Read more
12-inch Retina MacBooks on sale for $1150, $1...
B&H has 12″ 1.1GHz Retina MacBooks on sale for $150 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 12″ 1.1GHz Space Gray Retina MacBook: $1149 $150 off MSRP - 12″ 1.1GHz... Read more
Apple restocks refurbished 11-inch MacBook Ai...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 11″ MacBook Airs (the latest models recently discontinued by Apple), available for up to $170 off original MSRP. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each... Read more
Apple Park Opens to Employees in April With T...
Apple has announced that Apple Park, the company’s new 175-acre campus, will be ready for employees to begin occupying in April. The process of moving more than 12,000 people will take over six... Read more
Manhattan Neighbors for Safer Telecommunicati...
A new education and advocacy group focused on cell phone and wireless risks, Manhattan Neighbors for Safer Telecommunications, launched today at http://www.ManhattanNeighbors.org. Manhattan... Read more
Portable Dual DisplayPort Monitor Dock Enable...
IOGEAR has announced the launch of its USB-C Dual DisplayPort Monitor Portable Dock (GUC3CMST). The dock enables users to easily connect two DisplayPort monitors to a USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 laptop to... Read more
13-inch 2.7GHz Retina MacBook Pro on sale for...
Amazon.com has restocked the 13″ 2.7GHz/128GB Retina MacBook Pro (MF839LL/A) for $200 off MSRP including free shipping: - 13″ 2.7GHz/128GB Retina MacBook Pro: $1099 $200 off MSRP This model tends to... Read more
Apple’s New iPad Ads Don’t Address Pro Users’...
Apple launched a new tranche of iPad Pro TV ads last week addressing actual queries and challenges from the Twitterverse, albeit using actors for the visuals. That’s great. As an iPad fan and heavy... Read more
Free Verbum Catholic Bible Study App For iOS
The Verbum mobile app runs on Logos’ powerful Bible software and is an advanced resource for mobile Catholic study. The Verbum app surrounds the Bible with the Tradition. Verbum comes with 15 free... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions - Apple,...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions- Chicago...
SalesSpecialist - Retail Customer Service and SalesTransform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
Manager *Apple* Systems Administration - Pu...
Req ID 3315BR Position Title Manager, Apple Systems Administration Job Description The Manager of Apple Systems Administration oversees the administration and Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions - Apple,...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
Manager *Apple* Systems Administration - Pu...
Req ID 3315BR Position Title Manager, Apple Systems Administration Job Description The Manager of Apple Systems Administration oversees the administration and Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.