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Collaboration service adds Web conferencing

Intranets.com challenges Microsoft's Live Meeting by adding Web and audio-conferencing capabilities to its hosted collaboration service.

Collaboration services provider Intranets.com jumped into the increasingly competitive Web-conferencing market on Monday.

Woburn, Mass.-based Intranets.com sells collaboration services that enable workers in different locations to work together on documents and other common business tasks. The company has about 6,500 subscribers for the hosted service, mainly small businesses that don't want the expense and work of maintaining their own server to host collaborative documents.

"The fact there's no hardware or software to buy is very important to a lot of organizations," said Karen Leavitt, vice president of marketing at Intranets.com. "They don't want to punch a hole in their firewall to support users outside the company."

The company plans to target the same customer base with the new conferencing services. Customers can add Web-conferencing capabilities, which enable remote users to view online presentations and other common meeting functions, to the service at a flat monthly rate of $100 for up to 25 simultaneous users.

Most Web-conferencing services charge on a per-user, per-minute basis, but Intranets.com decided that flat-rate pricing would do more to entice new customers, Leavitt said.

"The problem with Web conferencing is that if you don't use it on a regular basis, it can be kind of intimidating," she said. "We wanted to make sure there were no barriers to making this a habit."

The Web conferencing market has become increasingly competitive in the past year, with Microsoft debuting Live Meeting, a Web-conferencing service that's based on technology the software giant acquired from PlaceWare. Microsoft executives have said the service is part of a broader strategy for collaboration services.

Macromedia also entered the Web conferencing market last year with Breeze, a presentation service based on its widespread Flash software.

Leavitt said Intranets.com--which will also offer telephone audio conferencing at a rate of 12 cents a minute--will continue to focus on the underserved small-business market.

"We're bringing this functionality that really has been beyond the reach of the small business...and these are the guys that need it," she said. "They don't have the travel budgets, and they don't have sales offices everywhere. They need to make as many sales calls as they can remotely."