By Vidhan Rana

With Dustin Moskovitz (the first CTO of Facebook) as its CEO and $10.2 million in cash from investors, Asana launched its web-based task management solution in early November (the company calls it a “collaborative information manager”). I have been using Asana since its launch, and it surely is collaborative and easy to use. Having unsuccessfully tried to use Basecamp a couple of times in the past, I have liked the tool enough to still use it and amrecommending it to friends (and now write about it in this blog).

The name of the company was the first thing that struck me. Growing up in Nepal (a small mountainous country in South Asia tucked in between two giants, India and China), I became familiar with some Sanskrit words (in fact, Sanskrit was part of my school’s curriculum until my eight grade). The word Asana means sitting down, typically a body position practiced during Yoga. The founders of Asana were so much into this Eastern form of relaxation (or exercise) that they named their company after one of the first things you learn doing Yoga.

In my opinion, Asana’s two main selling points are its speed and intuitive layout (the third seller is that it is FREE for up to 30 users in each workspace). With Basecamp and some other web-based project management tools, it felt like I lost time moving between tasks, assigning tasks and getting updates. But, with Asana it does not even feel like you are on the web. Yes, it is that lightening fast! The ease with which I figured out the tool was another seller. The way the tool separates into three columns (workspaces and projects in the first; tasks in the second; details of specific tasks in the third) is great. That makes switching between projects and specific tasks simple.

The other seller for the tool is the way I can manage various activities through one single tool (or login). I have Whittaker’s work, my company’s business, my volunteer work, and my personal to-do list all in Asana. They call this grouping workspaces. You can share these workspaces with your co-workers, friends, or family separately but still be able to work on all the tasks together in the same platform.

Next, Asana makes it very easy to assign tasks and keep an eye on all on-going projects. It does not pester you with emails every time someone changes something or adds a comment (you can choose to do so if you like your inbox flooded with notices). It sends a daily digest via email in the morning, which serves almost like a to-do list for your day. Once you create a task or someone else assigns a task to you and creates deadlines, you can sync them to your Outlook or Google calendars.
I think Asana is the best “collaborative” task management tool available on the web today, but it does have some deficiencies or negatives. First, I wish Microsoft or Google had come up with it so that I could use it right within Outlook or Google’s Gmail eco-system. Though, it is not that hard to open a new tab on the browser, it is an added step. I use Google for email and calendar (and sometimes Google Docs for collaboratively working on documents). I use Dropbox for back-up and document sharing. I really wish, all this work can come under one single platform.

Next, every time I create a new task, I have to assign that task to myself by clicking a button for it to appear on my daily task list. I wish there was a setting with which I could make it a default function. Also, an inbuilt calendar is missing in Asana. If I could look at tasks based on deadlines in each workspace (or even multiple workspaces), it would add to the tool’s utility. It does sync with my Google calendar, but it does not really cut it yet.

Obviously, Asana has been live for just a couple of months so there will be new features to come. Just a week back, the company launched its iPhone application. Having used it for a month now, I am truly impressed. The question now is how quickly it can bring new features and bring those larger paid clients to keep the company sustained (and hopefully profitable). I am sure they will offer better features for paid users like many other web applications do. The fact that one of Facebook’s co-founder, Dustin Moskovitz, decided leave the company in October 2008 to start Asana should say something about the business opportunity at which he is looking. I wish that Dustin’s gamble will pay off.