Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

UPDATED: Lunarr: A Once in a Blue Moon Company with a Unique Collaborative App

Posted by Tom Foremski - September 17, 2007

lunarr.gif I meet a lot of companies and most of them are very interesting. Lunarr is completely fascinating and I meet maybe 2 to 3 companies per year that fall into this category.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting with the Japanese co-founders of this Portland, Oregon based company, which has just emerged from stealth mode.

Their presentation was excellent, showing a simple yet powerful application that combines the features of a wiki with group-based email. It has a sparse but extremely elegant user interface.

The company was founded in January 2006 by Toru Takasuka and Hideshi Hamaguchi. Mr Takasuka is one of Japan's youngest and best known entrepreneurs. He created a groupware company called Cybozu, which quickly became one of Japan's fastest-growing software companies. And Mr Hamaguchi worked with the senior directors of Matsushita, one of Japan's largest conglomerates.

Avoiding the Silicon Valley noise

The two used to be colleagues at Matsushita in the mid-1990s. "We started working together several years ago in developing the ideas for a new type of collaborative platform," said Mr Hamaguchi.

The company was founded in Portland in order to have access to the high-tech community there. I asked why not in Silicon Valley where you can be in the middle of the conversations about tech and applications?

Mr Hamaguchi said that they needed the space to think about the concepts and develop their ideas. I can see how Silicon Valley can be very "noisy" and that it is a place of influence that makes it difficult to find the space for original thinking.

The thin-edge of Lunarr

Mr Hamaguchi, who's English is very good, uses a business card to communicate the Lunarr concept. One side of the business card is a wiki-like collaborative online space that can hold any document, graphic, web page etc.

The back of the business card represents email, so that you can share the wiki between just two people or many. The point is that instead of having many people work on the wiki collaborative space at the same time, it can be shared by a subset of the group, and the communications of that subset are kept within that group, yet it is also open to the group as a whole.

Mr Hamaguchi then shows me the thin-side of the business card, "This is the Lunarr application."

Japanese and US collaboration cultures

The Lunarr concept is a hybrid model of the different way Japanese and US workers share their work space. In Japan, offices have communal areas where shared resources such as manuals are kept. In US offices, cubicles with their private areas are the norm.

Lunarr is launching the service through private invitations. It is built on top of a big data center so that the service has plenty of scale. It is free for at least the first year and it carries no branding from Lunarr. It is being completely financed by Mr Takasuka.

I will pass along some invitations, let me know if you are interested. This is the type of deceptively simple concept that could produce amazingly powerful applications--I'm very interested in how groups of people will use it.

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UPDATE: Video of Lunarr

Here is Lunarr's release: LUNARR Introduces the Back Page for All Digital Information New Metaphor Effectively Doubles the Space of Documents and Web Pages for More Efficient and Creative Collaboration PORTLAND, Ore., Sept. 18 /PRNewswire/ -- LUNARR, Inc., the first U.S.-based software company founded by acclaimed Japanese entrepreneur, Toru Takasuka, announced that with the launch of the LUNARR alpha version at http://www.lunarr.com on October 1, all digital information will have a back page. Using the metaphor of the front and back of a page, LUNARR combines open, common-document collaboration features on the front with private email communication on the flip side. By attaching email to the document rather than the other way around, LUNARR provides a more streamlined way to collaborate and communicate on projects -- be they documents, web pages, or content in other online applications. (Photo: http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20070918/AQTU028 ) Toru Takasuka, founder and CEO of LUNARR, became a technology legend in Japan when his previous start-up company, Cybozu, displaced both Microsoft and Lotus to become the number one groupware product in Japan and the fastest IPO in Japan's history. Takasuka left Cybozu in 2005 to create LUNARR and realize a new vision for global, web-based collaboration. "When creating my former company, Cybozu, I had to start new because the groupware concept was so novel, it created it's own niche and threw old habits for a new spin. My plan for LUNARR is the same," said Toru Takasuka. "We're introducing a concept that could change the way the world sees digital documents -- the way we collaborate. By bringing an age-old paradigm (front and back) to a new world (digital media), I see a fresh, untouched frontier to build on. Unscathed territory breeds innovation and leaves only more room for creativity." "One of the several things I find most impressive about LUNARR is the way that it splits the difference between true blue American individualism and the collectivism reflected in Japanese team creativity," said Jay Ogilvy, co-founder of the Global Business Network and partner of the Monitor Group. "Culture matters, and as we move further into a global economy, we need tools like this that combine the best of several cultures, even as they facilitate communications between cultures." Using LUNARR Some capabilities of LUNARR alpha include: -- LUNARR can be used from any computer with a web browser and does not require any downloads. -- FRONT: The ability to create and edit a single "what you see is what is latest" (WYSIWIL) common document on the front. -- FRONT: A "document" can be created in LUNARR with a simple word processor, or it can consist of any form of digital file, web-based application or even a live web page. The service can easily be used to add a back page to any web-based software or service. -- FLIP: When a collaborator wants to communicate about a document, he or she can simply click to flip the document over and compose an email. -- BACK: When sending to others, the collaborator may grant access for individuals to collaborate on and view the document. Those receiving access are given their own private backside email system, which works just like email. The backside is private for each individual, but can be used for discussion board-style communication. -- BACK: Provides an access log and is equipped to track all changes and versions for easy rollback. -- BACK: An individual, private email box on the backside of each document that links directly to the document, web page or other digital information on the front. Messages can be private or opened for discussion board-style communication. -- BACK: The ability to link multiple documents, each of which has its own front and back, by attaching them to the back. Projects stay centralized with all documents and meta-communication. LUNARR will be offering the alpha and upcoming beta version of the service free for at least one year to gather input and continually improve features and capabilities prior to its commercial launch as a web-based subscription service. LUNARR will be available by invitation only from alpha users (media may access invitations through [email protected]). By keeping the process of document creation and sharing moving in a forward direction, LUNARR has found a way to eradicate version crisis and eliminate overflowing inboxes in order to increase productivity and creative corporate success. LUNARR makes multi-layer document collaboration as easy as flipping a page. For more information about the LUNARR service, the company and its management team, including video and social media links, please go to the Press tab at http://about.lunarr.com. About LUNARR LUNARR was founded in January of 2006 in the high tech "Silicon Forest" corridor of Portland, Oregon, U.S.A. The brainchild of Toru Takasuka, one of Japan's foremost technology entrepreneurs, the company brings together elements from Japanese and American culture to create products that blend innovation with collaboration. The team at LUNARR believes that every knowledge worker in an organization has the potential to be a creative contributor, one who can have a significant impact on the organization's success by sharing his or her unique ideas and perspectives through collaboration. LUNARR's mission is to increase the productivity of the web-savvy worker by offering a service that provides easy access to documents, projects and the communication behind them. SOURCE LUNARR, Inc. -0- 09/18/2007

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