Wiggio Offers Free Groupware for Harried College Students

When I was in college in the late 1980s, the apex of communications technology was the answering machine. Nobody had a mobile phone. Nobody even had an e-mail account, aside from a few computer-science majors. (And since there was no data connectivity in the dorms, even the geeks had to go to the computer room in the campus science center to read their e-mail.) If you wanted to contact a fellow student to set up a lunch date or a study group meeting or a band rehearsal, you had to call their dorm room and leave a message. And if you wanted a friend to edit your term paper, you had to hand it to them on a floppy disk.

So when Dana Lampert and Lance Polivy, two 22-year-old Cornell graduates, came by Xconomy’s office last week to talk about their Cambridge, MA-based startup, a student-oriented groupware provider called Wiggio, I listened with growing bemusement. It seems that kids these days are on the go so much of the time, and have so many clubs and groups and friends to keep up with, that they want help from the same kind of scheduling and collaboration software used inside many Fortune-1000 companies today. “Dana and I both had summer internships on Wall Street, working for big banks, and we realized that there are all these great collaboration tools, but we didn’t have any of them back at school,” says Polivy.

Nor could students afford these tools, even if they were available on campus. Microsoft’s Groove, a desktop program that teams can use to create online workspaces, costs $229 per copy—and even no-frills, Web-based alternatives like Basecamp, a popular collaboration suite from Chicago’s 37signals, can come with steep monthly fees ($24 to $149 per month, in Basecamp’s case). So Lampert and Polivy and their software-engineering colleagues, brothers Rob and Derek Doyle, built a system that lets students share files and calendars, set up group conference calls, and exchange mass text messages, voice messages, and e-mails—all from a free, advertising-supported Web interface.

Wiggio Calendar Screen ShotStudents at Cornell and other campuses have been testing Wiggio since last spring, and the startup will open the site to the general public on Monday. Lampert and Polivy say they plan to start marketing the system this fall on 40 select campuses around the country, including Boston schools like BU, Harvard, Northeastern, and Tufts.

The pair of young entrepreneurs say that Wiggio—the name is a takeoff on an acronym for “Working In Groups”—was born from their own frustrations at Cornell, keeping their busy student lives in order. “We were in many different business organizations, bands, sports teams, fraternity councils, and living in apartments with different housemates, and we found that each group was using different tools,” says Lampert. “Some were using Google Calendar, others were using Yahoo’s calendars. Some just sent e-mails out, others used listservs. For polls, they’d go to Survey Monkey, and for conference calls they’d use free apps like FreeConference.com. When Lance and I put our heads together, we thought we could put all these things in one place.”

Almost every function on Wiggio duplicates something that’s also available from some other service or platform. But the key to building Wiggio, Lampert says, was making things simple. Setting up a group is quick, easy, and free, and groups can use as many or as few of the communications options as they need. Each task, from creating an event on the Wiggio calendar to sending out a mass text message, is boiled down to … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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