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Semaphor by SpiderOak…Not quite there

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Semaphor by SpiderOak.. It’s a whipping

I was fortunate earlier today to get an invite to try out the Beta version of Semaphor.  this is SpiderOak’s newest collaboration tool that touts it’s 100% encrypted end-to-end.  Plus like all of SpiderOak’s products, this is also a No Peek product.  Which means that SpiderOak, nor anyone else can see what you are doing, sending or saying.  Which is always a good thing.  BUT, that is where the goodness stops.  Unfortunately.

So here is my review of Semaphor after only trying to use it for all of 45 minutes.  Yeah…it was that much of a whipping.  Just an FYI, this is gonna get kinda ugly.

The Set-up

Well once I got my email, and I was able to download that application, I was finally at the part where you do you sign up.  They give you a couple of choices.  Use an email or sign up without one.  I chose the email route.  One note here, make sure you use the email you want to use.  I didn’t and there is NO WAY to change that once the set up is complete!!!!

Once I was signed in, you are taken to a Welcome screen.  It does a great job of really simplifying the first two parts you need to get going.  The Team and The Channel.  So I give props to them making that super simple and easy.

Welcome Screen 06-07-16, 2.54.28 PM


The ugly parts

Once you have created your Teams and Channel, you finally get a good look at what the actual screen looks like.

General Screen_2

On the left hand side you see your Teams and Channels.  In the middle is the chat area.  And in the upper right hand corner you have your search icon, how many people are in the channel and then your profile pic.

On each of your teams there are two choices that you have.  You need to click the three blue dots to the right of your team name to get either New Channel or Team Options. Team Choices

 And just for some clarification here.  You DO NOT have a way to delete either a team or a channel.  This is but one of many the most frustrating parts of Semaphor.  I understand why you wouldn’t want a Member of your teem or Channel not to have the ability to delete.  But if you are the Admin.  The one setting up this shin dig, then damn it, you should be able to delete what ever you want to.  And you can’t.  At least I haven’t found a way to yet.

Then down at the bottom you have two icons.  One is to view the channels you have.  The other is for any private messages.

Now adding channels and teams is easy.  But the hard part comes when you actually have to invite a person to be part of your team.

The invitations….Let’s get personal

So in other programs, you just click on a link that says something like “Invite users”.  And it allows you to put in their email address and send an invite.  Well, this isn’t that simple.  Semaphor has done a great job of making this as freaking complex and somewhat complicated as possible.

See I just can’t invite someone to a channel.  I first have to invite them to join the team.  So what you do, is click on the three blue dots nest to your team name and then click Team Options.  Then on the right hand side is a series of letters and numbers that is specific to your team.  You must send that to the person you wish to invite.  Mind you they have to download the application first.  Join Request

Once that is done.  You have to wait for them to let you know that they have requested to join.  Yup, you wait.  And the reason for this is because Semaphor doesn’t notify you that you have any join requests.  At least, I never got any.  So unless you are just sitting around looking at the join request screen, you will never know that someone is asking to join unless they tell you.

join Request_Blank

Once you do get a request, you then must approve them.  I can see why this is necessary.  You want to make absolutely sure that no one other than those wanted are in the Team you created. But I find it extremely hard for anyone to be able to match the specific invite code for the team.  So I’m looking at it from both sides of the fence.  I see a need for it, but at the same time, it’s a duplication and an extra step.

Join Request_with

Once you approve the person, then they are added to the Team Directory.  Now that you have them in the Team Directory, you can invite them to the channel you created. So you can’t just invite them straight from the left of the main area by right clicking on the #General(or whatever your channel name is).  No, that would be to easy.  You have to go up to your menu.  Go to the “#General” menu, then click on the “Invite to Channel”  WTH?????  So two extra steps just to get to where you can invite the person you just invited to the team, to the channel you wanted them in all along.  Select Invite

SO once you are at the invite panel, then you click on all the members you wish to include to the channel.  Simply click on the box next to their name, click on the button that says “Invite Selected” and then they are finally in the channel.  Now, I can somewhat understand why this is. As you grow your team, not everyone needs to be in a channel.  Maybe you have a #Sales channel. The billing clerk doesn’t necessarily need to be there.  That makes perfect sense.  What doesn’t make sense is how I had to go back to the support page to figure it all out. There should be a way to make this a much more intuitive way to invite people.

So far to get to this point, it took me all of 20 minutes.  Yup, 20 minutes to invite one person.  Now I’m sure when you have this process down, it goes a lot quicker. But wow, I was so frustrated at this point, that I almost threw my hands up and just deleted the entire application.

The main attraction

So now we have all that admin stuff out of the way, we can get to what is really the meat and potatoes portion of our little thing.  The actual collaboration with a person(s) in a channel.  It goes as all of the collaboration tools go.  You type at the bottom, hit Enter and it shows up in the middle.  But, bear in mind that each message takes a second to “complete”.  This is because the message is being encrypted before it’s sent.  I can live with that.  So long as it doesn’t take a coon’s year, I’m good with waiting.  But, and you knew there was going to be a but.  There is not a way to edit a comment.  In applications like Slack and Ryver, there is a side menu of the comment.  And in there you can edit what you said.  Maybe you need to change a misspelled word.  Or maybe you want to delete a sentence from the conversation.  You can’t with Semaphor.  So you leave it all out to the wind when you hit the Enter key.

Picture attached screen

You are able to attach any size file or picture that you wish.  But, there is no way to expand the picture, like you can in Ryver or Slack.  So if someone puts a small picture in there, you are going to have to download the picture and then view it on your computer that way.  That hopefully is in the works for a fix.  Otherwise that get’s a #fail.

Just like all the other collaborative apps, you can send a private or direct message to a specific individual in the channel or team.  So to do that, first you have to click on their avatar(profile picture), then you hit the “Message” button.  This takes you to a screen that shows just the private messages between you and that individual.  Getting here was at least painless.

Private message_to_send

As you can see from above, you can also give different permission levels to a person.  While this is great, at this stage, it really doesn’t matter.  But, at least there is something..right???

In Conclusion

I’m gonna wrap this thing up.  I will preface this by saying, I know this is Beta.  I know this is the rough draft time. And I give Semaphor the benefit of the doubt in that area.   BUT, and I’m not going to hold back.  If SpiderOak want this to be successful and want this to be the place for secure and encrypted communication and collaboration, then they have got to do a better job.  They can’t come to this type of application half cocked.  There are a lot of negatives right now.

  1. Can’t delete a Team or a Channel
  2. Can’t edit/delete a comment or text
  3. There is no “reply” to a specific statement.  So you can’t follow something specific.  Basically, the conversation will get lost in the masses.
  4. The invitation system sucks.  You have to read the support page to make sure you get it right the first time.  Not very intuitive.
  5. It is constantly synching. CJ, the other party to my test, actually had to quit the application because it was constantly synching.  Like a boot loop.
  6. There is an area to add devices, and yet there isn’t an app for iOS or Android.  So I couldn’t add anything.
  7. It’s MAC only right now.  Which sucks for about 85% of the world who use Windows.
  8. As far as a collaboration tool goes, this is really just a fancy chat app.

I’m sorry to say, but Semaphor has a lot of work ahead of them.  I LOVE the idea of a 100% encrypted collaboration tool.  Unfortunately Semaphor doesn’t cut it for me yet. Nor does it cut it for the people in the community. Nor would I use this for my other business. If you want to be on the fore front of this and want to really test it out.  You can click here and go try it.  But, it still has a lot to do. And I’m not sure if they can get it up to speed fast enough!

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