It’s all about things happening in real-time these days. Facebook just announced its new streaming newsfeeds, and Twitter is the media’s darling. It only makes sense for other services to get in on the act while the getting’s good. One such company is online collaboration tool provider Drop.io, which announced today that it will begin updating materials uploaded by users in real time.

So, let’s say a group is working on a project that includes several documents. To centralize them, one of the team members uploads them all onto Drop.io, which buckets them together on one site — called a ‘drop’ — that can be password protected. That way, any member of the group can reorganize the files (with drag-and-drop functionality), or snag one off the web, update it and reload it with changes. This goes for images, audio files and videos, too. The difference now is that these changes will be reflected the instant the file is uploaded, even if another team member has the older version open — no page refreshing required.

The other major new feature is a chat function, much like the one that exists in Google Docs, that allows collaborating users to discuss the task at hand right there in the system. Drop.io provides support for Jabber, Adium and Pidgin messaging services, so that users on any one of them can speak with those using the internal chat client.

Despite these developments, the service may still sound very similar to other document management and productivity systems on the web. Chief executive Sam Lessin has pointed to 37Signals‘ collaboration tool, Campfire, as one such competitor — not to mention Google Docs itself (which has traction with the general public, even if it hasn’t gone streaming), Jive Software and new potential rival Workstreamer.

But Drop.io succeeds in distinguishing itself with the simplicity of its interface and some neat accessory features. For example, it gives users the option of viewing uploaded photos in a beautiful 3-D layout with Cooliris’ PicLens plugin. Users can send updates and alerts to their project colleagues through a variety of channels, including email, SMS, Twitter, Ping.fm and Facebook. And if that isn’t instant enough, they can subscribe to an RSS feed that will register changes and updates to any of the files in the drop. Or they can choose to listen to uploaded audio files or watch video files in iTunes (and even take them on-the-go on their iPods). If one team member wants the whole shebang on their own system, Drop.io lets them download a tidy zip file of all the contents. The service works the same (including chat) on both the iPhone and Google’s Android.

Based in Brooklyn, N.Y., Drop.io offers these basic functions for free, with 100 MB of storage space. Users can also upgrade to a premium account for $10 for every additional GB of storage space per year per drop. It has raised $3.95 million in capital to date from investors including RRE Ventures.

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