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New tools ease online collaboration and publishing

PALO ALTO, Calif. -- This scenario is all too familiar to office workers who collaborate electronically on projects: E-mails get passed around with differing versions of documents-in-progress attached. Instant messages whiz by. Websites are cited, then lost.

It's often a jumbled mess, with no central online location for shared data.

There must be a better way.

A new crop of tools aims to help turn the Web -- be it on the public Internet or a company network -- into much more than a collection of documents one visits like a museum: Look, but don't touch.

The idea is to make it easy to quickly post and remove stuff from digital bulletin boards where the online communities of the future will gather to catch up and trade ideas, images, and work.

"We're turning the Web into a conversation," said Glenn Reid, chief executive and founder of Five Across Inc.

Reid's start-up and several other companies will offer their visions for accomplishing that on stage this week at the DEMO conference in Arizona, an annual showcase of tech innovation.

All are trying to address in one way or another an emerging trend of making the Web less disjointed and more democratized -- a richer, more organized forum for gathering and sharing information.

These companies, and many others, are all part of a growing industry specializing in what Forrester Research analyst Charlene Li calls "social media."

JotSpot Inc., a Palo Alto-based start-up, is betting on wikis, a type of Web page that can be edited by anyone.

Wikis could become a staging area of sorts for information, and JotSpot's new Web service targets businesses that want to give authorized users a common location in which to collaborate.

Co-workers can take a spreadsheet, build on it, customize it, integrate data from the Web or e-mails, and have all the information reside in one place on a wiki website. Revisions are tracked and archived so nothing is ever lost.

Behind JotSpot is Joe Kraus, a serial entrepreneur who cofounded the early search engine Excite.

Kraus became a believer in wikis after he and fellow cofounder Graham Spencer got fed up with exchanging hundreds of e-mails and attachments and tried using a wiki instead while working on a business plan. That ultimately led to JotSpot's birth in October, competing against Socialtext and a handful of others in the fledgling market.

"We're in this transition of making it ever easier to publish [on the Web] and integrate previously siloed information and personalizing it," said Kraus, who is also JotSpot's chief executive.

Others, including Five Across and iUpload, aim to use the power of another form of Web publishing, online journals commonly known as blogs, to help businesses or individuals streamline their teamwork or communication.

Easy to use and update, blogs have gained traction in the past few years and are used by everyone from political pundits to preadolescents.

More than 8 million Internet users have created blogs, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, and a growing number of businesses are experimenting with blogs as tools for internal and external communication.

At DEMO, Palo Alto-based Five Across is introducing speedy technology that lets bloggers instantaneously update their blog pages with text, photos, audio or video clips, even spreadsheets and presentations, using easy drag-and-drop motions.

Called Bubbler, the tool allows members of a group to make a single blog more of a community than one person's mouthpiece.

Say someone has built a website for their child's soccer team. Setting up a community-style blog could help make the task easier, Reid said. A single person would not be burdened with all of the work. The Bubbler blogging platform could also tap Five Across's existing software for instant messaging and file-sharing.

Ontario-based iUpload's new blogging product lets individuals communicate with other websites straight from their blogs. Users can pull their blog content -- whether it's a book review or a submission to a photo contest -- and send it to iUpload's online partners, which so far include auction giant eBay Inc., Web portal Yahoo Inc., and social networking site Tribe.

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