VaporStream’s software is designed to combine the ease of use of e-mail with the privacy and security of an in-person chat.
VaporStream’s electronic conversation software is designed to offer secure and “recordless” online conversations, promising the ease of use of e-mail combined with the privacy and security of an in-person chat. Company CEO Jack Hembrough says the idea for the product came from the founders’ realization “that everything that they wrote in an e-mail was as if they were publishing it for everyone to read – that there was no privacy in electronic communications.”
And so the product provides desktop, mobile (BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, iOS) and online interfaces that offer a similar user experience to an e-mail client, including support for attachments, with two key distinctions – the header of the message is never shown along with the message content, so a screenshot can’t be used to connect the sender to the content; and no data is ever stored on a disk drive, only in RAM, to ensure that no record of the conversation is kept.
Off the record
Hembrough says there are a number of benefits to this kind of conversation. “When you write something in the VaporStream network and send it on, you can ultimately trust that the person on the other end is not going to do something untoward with the message you sent them – because they can’t,” he says. “A VaporStream message can’t be copied, cut, pasted, forwarded, can’t be printed, and can’t be saved.”
The European Court of Justice’s recent ruling that attorney-client privilege doesn’t apply to in-house attorneys, Hembrough says, is an excellent example of the need for a solution like this. “So the private advice that you’ve gotten from your in-house attorney is discoverable and can be used against you,” he says. “That means that attorneys are now going to be on the phone all the time… but with VaporStream, they can have that same kind of private conversation without having to get in time sync.”
It’s also useful, Hembrough notes, in more mundane situations. “If your wife’s sending you a message saying, ‘Bring home a loaf of bread when you come home tonight,’ there’s no reason for the corporation, first of all, to know that your wife sent you that message, which they do now, and second of all for the corporation to store that for seven years… as part of their retention policy,” he says.
In the time since the product’s initial launch in 2008, Hembrough says, several adjustments have been made to the user experience. “One of our initial approaches was to do a tight integration with the Outlook client,” he says. “We found that our customers then would go into their Outlook client and they’d forget whether they were sending a VaporStream or a regular e-mail message… so we came up with an app that sits separately on your desktop, and you’re then very much aware that either you’re sending a recorded message over traditional e-mail or IM, or you’re sending a recordless message over VaporStream.”
Legal and health care sectors
And Hembrough says using VaporStream is just as ethical and legal as having an off-the-record conversation while standing in a hallway. “We have vetted this with some real industry experts in the e-discovery and electronic documentation space, and you have every right to keep things private,” he says.
Earlier this year, Gartner named VaporStream as one of its Cool Vendors in Healthcare Providers for 2010. “It’s a very unique product… There is definitely a need within the healthcare delivery organization for confidential curbside conversations that don’t have to take place face-to-face,” says Gartner research vice president Barry Runyon.
And the interface, Runyon says, is extremely well-designed. “What I liked about it was its elegance,” he says. “It’s very simple. It’s a service, it recognizes what already happens, and it makes it more efficient.”
Most clinicians, Runyon says, are understandably concerned about having conversations that are discoverable. “If a communication does not have to be recorded, it’s more likely that they’re going to be candid and communicate and collaborate with one another more often,” he says.
Particularly when those clinicians are thinking out loud, discussing a possible course of treatment, Runyon says, it’s crucial for them to be able to do so off the record. “They end up talking in hallways, they end up meeting face to face, because they don’t want a record,” he says.
And if they don’t do so using a product like VaporStream, Runyon says, they’ll either have the conversation in person, or they won’t have it at all. “If you want the most honest, forthright answer, it’s typically off the record, face-to-face,” he says. “And this expedites that sort of thing – because it happens anyway, and we have to recognize that it happens… What you don’t want is a clinician walking all the way across the medical school campus to have a face-to-face conversation with another clinician, when he could do it a lot more productively through something like VaporStream.”