counter on godaddy
post

Competitors Rush to bring the Latest Timesinks to the Enterprise

It’s nice to see competitors come together to bring the most popular timesinks productivity boosters to the Enterprise.

We’ve long been predicting Foursquare would soon hit the Enterprise, and no the wait is over, with Atlassian releasing Fourwalls.

fourwalls

There’s a lot we can learn from this app – otherwise how would I know that @barconati spends way too much time in the kitchen? (unless he is cooking a new Confluence soup).

Let’s not forget competition – how could archrival Socialtext leave this field to Atlassian?  No way… and there they are, releasing Chatroulette for the Enterprise.

A true revolution in Randomized Productivity Management (RPM) :-)

post

SocialText Becomes Really Social

Socialtext, the enterprise wiki company is no more… a wiki company, that is.  Not since Socialtext 3.0, the new release announced today.   Founder and Chairman Ross Mayfield calls his new baby a Connected Collaboration Platform, that’s modular, built on a widget framework, and consists of:

A fourth piece, Socialtext Signals is in the works, in private beta testing – I guess we could call it Twitter (Yammer?  ESME?) for the Enterprise.  Actually more, since it involves active microblogging – quick messages – as well as pulling in what users do elsewhere (FriendFeed?)

The platform is flexible, easy to customize via widgets, clearly the vision is that in an enterprise environment actionable information is pulled in from the transactional systems, too – i.e. ERP, CRM.

Knowing Ross as the uber-social guy something tells me this is what he always wanted to to: create Social Software.  But I tend to agree with Jevon MacDonald, who differentiates social software from the wiki, which is primarily a collaboration tool.  So Ross was really in the collaboration business and given his name became synonymous with wiki evangelism, he will no doubt have a hard time changing that image. smile_wink

This is not to say the wiki part, should be neglected… It is the primary collaboration facility for anything not well handled by process-driven, transactional systems, and all this social layer is just the glue that holds it all together.  (Hint: you will hear a lot more about Glue soon).

I had in the past been quite critical of Socialtext’s wiki component, and am looking forward to revisit it, as part of our wiki-series in the coming weeks @ CloudAve.  In the meantime, enjoy this video:

post

Wiki Review or Rant?

I am deeply interested in wikis, and business oriented ones in particular, in fact was considering doing a fairly detailed comparative study, so I got really excited seeing on twitter that Tom Raftery posted an Enterprise wiki review. Too bad it’s not a review; it’s a rant that lacks any methodology or real comparison.

He goes at length describing the installation nightmare:

The setup of the Confluence wiki was far from straightforward. It took two of us the best part of a day to simply install it. Remember that as I was doing this for it@cork, this was not billable time. I was installing it on my own server and because Confluence requires TomCat as its webserver it had to run on a separate port to Apache. This meant several people couldn’t view it in their organisations.

Sounds to me like a case of bad platform choice. Now, I am by far not as technically inclined as Tom is, and am biased: I won’t touch anything that needs to be installed. That’s what Software as a Service is for. Which, incidentally is an available option for Confluence, so how Tom got into comparing “hard-to-install” Confluence with hosted PBwiki and Socialtext is beyond me – it’s an apples-to-oranges comparison. And there’s not much of a comparison either… here’s all he has to say about two other products:

By the way, I did also try out DekiWiki and Twiki but I ruled them out quite early on.

That’s not a very detailed review, if you ask me. DekiWiki is downloaded about 3000 times a day (!), so some people must like it… even though their acquisition of SocialText was just an April 1 joke. smile_regular

Joke apart, a word on picking the right tool for the right job: perhaps you don’t even need an “enterprise class” wiki for a conference. The official Oracle Wiki is based on Wetpaint, a decidedly consumer and community-focused platform.

My personal takeaway from this to me is to look at PBWiki: when I last checked it out, it was a baby-wiki for some reason popular in geek circles; apparently it has grown up. I’m not sure I will get to do the wiki review I’ve been planning, but in the meantime if Tom decides to write a real one, I am looking forward to reading it.

Update: Tom responded in a comment below. The hosted version of Confluence is NOT available under the community license. He ruled out DekiWiki as when he figured he could not to create Groups. There’s more, please read his comment.

post

Enterprise Software: from ERP to BRP

I had already spent half a decade implementing SAP solutions in the 90’s when I finally got enlightened, learning the “proper term” for what I was doing: ERP, as in Enterprise Resource Planning. The term was coined by then Gartner Analyst, now Enterprise Irregular Erik Keller. Now another fellow Enterprise Irregular, Sig Rinde introduces a new interpretation of ERP: Easily Repeatable Process. Of course he contrasts that with his new acronym, BRP (not to be confused with BPR, another 90’s favorite), which means Barely Repeatable Process. BRP is what Thingamy, Sig’s lightweight, extremely adoptable system attempts to address. But it’s a very-very tough sell…

ERP traditionally addresses the core, standard, and as such repeatable business processes. Whatever it can’t handle are the exceptions: processes to be handled by knowledge workers outside the realm of ERP, by traditional means: phone calls, spreadsheets, creative thinking and a lot of emailing back and forth. Exceptions may be a fraction of business volume, but they are what corporate employees spend most of their time resolving. If that’s the case, knowledge workers who come up with innovative solutions may consider it a good practice to document them just in case the “exception” ever occurs again… and if it does a few times, well then it’s no longer an exception, but a (Barely) Repeatable Process.

Wikis in the Enterprise are a simple yet effective solution to manage such BRPs: they facilitate collaboration of all knowledge workers involved, allow some structure (structure is helpful when not pre-imposed but flexibly created) to organize data and finally, as a by-product they serve as documentation of the solution for future re-use.

Neither process-driven heavyweight systems like ERP, nor innovative, lightweight collaboration tools like wikis are the one and only mantra for most businesses (see my previous rant on “you can’t run your supply chain on a wiki“), they have their own place and should complement each other. Standard business processes and exceptions are not black-and-white opposites either: it’s a continuum, and halfway is BRP. If ERP (in the traditional meaning) tries to address to many of theses BRPs, it gets overly complex (it already is!), hard to configure and use.

This is the dilemma Sig’s system, Thingamy addresses. It’s neither free-form collaboration, nor ERP: it’s a business system framework, that allows you to model and define business processes: a tool to create your own custom-made ERP, if you like.

And therein lies the rub. Most business users don’t want to create software. They want to use it. This was the problem that caused the demise of Teqlo: the unfunded, unproven belief, that users actually want to interactively create their tools. No, they want to deal with the urgent business problems (the BRP), using whatever tools are readily available.

Thingamy’s dilemma is finding the customer: it certainly won’t be the business user. A modeling tool, simple it may be has a learning curve, dealing with it is a distraction to say the least. Thingamy’s likely “owner” would be corporate IT which would have to create processes on demand. But we all know what happens if you need to call IT to create a “program” for you.smile_omg Thingamy could possibly be a handy tool for consultants, system integrator firms – but they all have their own army of programmers, toolsets..etc, which makes it an awfully hard sell, IMHO.

Thingamy is no doubt an elegant solution, I just don’t see the mass market need for it, because it does not solve a mass market problem. Or I should say, it does, but there’s a mismatch between whose problems it solves and who can use it. Sig himself defines collaboration as a workaround for the Barely Repeatable Processes in the Enterprise: my bet is that this “workaround” is here to stay for a long time.

Update (3/18): CIO Magazine interviews Ross Mayfield, Founder and Chairman of Socialtext, an enterprise wiki company:

Most employees don’t spend their time executing business process. That’s a myth. They spend most of their time handling exceptions to business process.

… the greatest source of sustainable innovation is how you’re handling these exceptions to business process.

… So I’ve always looked at it as we’re doing the other half of enterprise software: making this unstructured information transparent.

post

A Confluence of the Wiki and Document/Folder Worlds

Merriam-Webster:

confluence

1: a coming or flowing together, meeting, or gathering at one point <a happy confluence of weather and scenery>

2 a: the flowing together of two or more streams

b: the place of meeting of two streams

c: the combined stream formed by conjunction

Today we’re seeing the confluence of two worlds: the flow-oriented thinking and collaboration, represented by Confluence, the market-leading enterprise wiki, and the more traditional approach of documents, lists, folders, represented by Microsoft SharePoint. Or perhaps it’s a right-brain / left-brain thing. I’ve talked about it at length, and since Jeremiah, Web Prophet says backlinking is OK, I’ll just do that, instead of repeating myself: Flow vs. Structure: Escaping From the Document & Directory Jungle.

Now, as important forward-looking visioning is, successful business leaders recognize what the market wants today, not where they’d like to lead them tomorrow. Recognizing that Microsoft Office is deeply entrenched in the corporate workplace, Atlassian first added Webdav capabilities to Confluence (drag-and-drop files into the wiki, single click on attachment to edit them in the original MS Office format and save back to the wiki). But customers wanted more, according to Jeffrey Walker, President:

..meeting with customers and analysts, SharePoint came up in every meeting. “We have growing groups who love the wiki, and long standing users of Microsoft and now SharePoint. Help!”, customers asked..

The result of today’s joint Microsoft and Atlassian announcement of the SharePoint Connector for Confluence. The initial features include:

  • Search: Users can search SharePoint and Confluence content together from one place.
  • Content sharing: From within SharePoint, users can embed Confluence page contents allowing users to blend content. This also includes Confluences numerous plugins.
  • Linking: Within Confluence, users can access SharePoint document facilities. By including SharePoint lists and content within Confluence, users, in a single click, can edit Microsoft Office documents.
  • Single Sign-On and Security: With one login, users can access both systems while seeing only what they have permission to view.

In short, access your information, whether you’re the wiki-flow type or the create-save-hide-in-folders type smile_wink

The screenprint above shows a Confluence page (with the charting plugin) embedded within, and editable directly from SharePoint. For more, check out the feature tour.

Jevon MacDonald is pondering about the business realities behind this deal:

The question that weighs most heavily is: is there enough incentive for Microsoft to participate in this partnership in any significant way? The immediate economics aren’t obvious for Microsoft, which leaves us with two options:

– but I’m not giving those options away, you’ll have to read his post. (as an aside, he is the only one examining the business side, but his post is not on TechMeme – let’s see if we can push it theresmile_sarcastic)

Speculation aside, some numbers: SharePoint has 80 million users while Atlassian Confluence has 4,100 customers – I don’t know how many users that translates to, but I’ve just written about SAP’s SDN/BPX communities which has about a million (!) users, and Confluence is a significant part of it. That said, Jeffrey said it right, David kisses Goliath in this deal.

There is no marketing agreement behind it, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Microsoft’s huge reseller channel show interest in Confluence. And frankly, just removing the “we’re a SharePoint-shop” political obstacle in some major enterprise client is worth it alone.

Sour grapes? Competitor Socialtext announced their SharePoint integration a year ago, and CEO Ross Mayfield says SharePoint wiki was last year’s news. Well, I think Socialpoint, the Socialtext/SharePoint integration was last year’s news, this year’s news is Confluence.

Perhaps next year’s news will be which enterprise wiki vendor could translate their deals into real market gains. smile_shades

Update: here’s a video interview with CEO Mike Cannon-Brookes and President Jeffrey Walker on ScobleShow.

HOT! EXCLUSIVE! Here’s the real price Mike had to pay for this deal… just compare his looks above with this video. What’s next? A suit and tie? smile_tongue

Related posts: Read/WriteWeb, Computerworld, Don Dodge, Atlassian News, WebProNews, Between the Lines, Ross Mayfield’s Weblog, Irregular Enterprise, Radiowalker, elliptical , eWEEK.com, Socialwrite, Trends in the Living Networks, Rebelutionary.

Update (10/19): Intriguing thoughts on wiki plug-ins, KM Web-services and Enterprise SOA on – surprise, suprise! – the SAP Community Network

Zemanta Pixie
post

Wikis are Not Knowledge Management Tools

No, this is not an anti-wiki pitch, that would be highly unlikely coming from me. But I am continually amazed how we tend to focus on features while missing the people factor. Knowledge Management is a prime example. KM projects typically do not fail due to software issues, but for human reasons: lack of input, or GIGO. Yet here’s an excerpt from a white paper by enterprise wiki vendor MindTouch::

Wikis provide a flexible alternative to the rigidity of conventional

knowledge management software.

Why wikis work for knowledge management

Based on the features described above, wikis are a powerful replacement for conventional

knowledge management software, because they make knowledge easier to

capture, find and consume:

a. Capturing information: The information is there. Somewhere. Maybe on

a PC, maybe in a file attached to an email, maybe in someone’s head

undocumented. With a wiki, all documents are stored in one central

repository, and files are uploaded rather than attached to emails. Therefore

information is more likely to be captured, stored and made available for reuse.

b. Finding information: When a user has to search a network file server,

he or she must know exactly where to look. A wiki lets a user search

contextually. In addition, because the structure is not required to be linear—

as with KM software—cross-linking of pages helps users not only find

information, but find relevant information.

c. Consuming information: In addition to finding information more easily with

a wiki, a user finds that information in context, meaning the information

is in a location that gives the user some background and perspective relative

to the data. That enables the user to more quickly comprehend the meaning,

significance and relevance of that piece of information. “

All of the above is true – yet it misses the Big Picture. The real story is not about a better tool, but being able to work differently. When wikis are truly embraced in the enterprise, they don’t just make KM easier; they put it out of it’s misery. Yes, that’s right, the wiki is the end of Knowledge Management as we know it: the after-the-fact collection, organization and redistribution of knowledge objects.

The wiki becomes the primary platform to conduct work, the fabric of everyday business, where people create, collaborate, and in the process capture information. While not a Knowledge Management tool, the wiki resolves the KM-problem as a by-product.

Update (6/15/08): Now we have pretty good terms to describe the above, instead of my clumsy explanation. See the discussion on In-the-Flow and Above-the-Flow wikis by Michael Idinopulos and Ross Mayfield.

Ross Mayfield talks about similar ideas in Manage Knowledgement (MK):

“Turns out, users resisted and the algorithms didn’t match reality. With MK, through blogs and wikis, the principle activity is sharing, driven by social incentives. Contribution is simple and unstructured, isn’t a side activity and there is permission to participate. Intelligence is provided by participants, both through the act of sharing and simply leaving behind breadcrumbs of attention.”

Update (5/1): What Happened to Knowledge Management? – by Stewart Mader

post

Read/Write Intranet 2007

Rod Boothby is running a Read/Write Intranet Idol – it’s a poll I invite you to participate in, so I am attaching it at the bottom. But first, it gives me a chance to share some of my (wiki)-thoughts.

The list is a mix of industry behemoths (Microsoft, IBM Lotus), emerging but established brands (Atlassian‘s Confluence, Socialtext, WordPress), relatively known startups and quite a few obscure names. The latter probably not by pure chance: both Rod and I are on the Selection Committee for the next Under the Radar Conference on Office 2.0, and scouting for candidates we have made quite a few new discoveries, including some of these “obscure” names, that likely won’t remain obscure for long.

Perhaps the biggest “discovery” for me was Brainkeeper, a user-friendly enterprise wiki startup that officially launches today. Totally out of left field, they aim to be like market-leader Confluence in functionality yet have a friendly UI like Wetpaint. Oh, and add niceties like Workflow (Itensil?) and an API. Like I said before sometimes it pays to *not* be first on the market …

It was really interesting to watch the poll dynamics change yesterday and this morning. First, with only a handful votes cast unknown little Brainkeeper was leading the chart. Another leader was Koral, a content collaboration startup I’ve been planning to write about way too long now (until I pull my act together, see two reviews by Ismael and John Wilson). What’s content collaboration? It’s content management without the pain of “management”. As much as I am a fan of wikis, not all companies will embrace them: Koral helps those who mostly work with desktop documents (MS Office) share, update, collaborate painlessly.

Back to the poll: as more voters came in, predictably the “brand names” strengthened their position and the “obscure” ones fell somewhat behind. Still with 117 votes cast, I believe it’s mostly InnovationCreators’s primary reader-base, where Microsoft Sharepoint or Lotus Notes Blogsphere are not exactly popular. Like it or not those products will make a killing on the corporate market. So “brand name” here means the likes of Confluence by Atlassian, Socialtext, WordPress, Movable Type…etc.

Confluence’s #1 position on the list reflects it’s real-life market position: absolute leader in market share, revenue, functionality. Of course to maintain that position they can’t just sit on their laurels and they know that. At a really productive meeting with the San Francisco team recently we discussed their development plans, most of which I cannot share for now. However, I am happy to share that in the not-so-distant future Confluence will offer a hosted version – something I’ve repeatedly asked for:-).

As for competitor Socialtext, they revamped the product a few months ago: while I was fairly critical of some of the functional misses, the single biggest improvement was the UI: they went from an outright ugly product to a pleasant-looking, clean, friendly one. In fact this, along with other players (JotSpot, Wetpaint, Zoho, Brainkeeper) has turned the table: formerly good-looking Confluence now feels a bit … well, 2005-ish (?) Still the best, but somewhat boring. They are keenly aware of this and improving the UI is one of Atlassian’s key priorities.

JotSpot is in hibernation in the meantime, although TechCrunch speculates it may open up soon. Zoho is a newcomer to the wiki space, but not one to underestimate: they may just leapfrog all other players when they tightly integrate their full Suite (Write, Show, Sheet, Create) thus creating a truly powerful read/write/collaborate platform online.

Last, but not least two smaller wiki-players from the list: Itensil combines workflow with a wiki (now, religious wiki-fans deny the need for any structure or workflow, which is probably OK for a small group, but workflow is the way large corporations work), and System One combines a wiki with relevant enterprise search.

Without further ado (wasn’t this enough?) here’s the poll, please cast your vote:

You can click “view results” after you cast your vote, then “Complete results” to se more stats on the Zoho Polls site. Once there, click the “Rating” header to sort the list in ranking order – right now, with 117 votes cast Confluence is #1 with an average of 3.54, closely followed by Brainkeeper’s 3.50.

post

Wetpaint Attracts More Funding

(Updated)

Wetpaint, the “wiki-less wiki” received a $9.5 million Series B round in addition to its $5.25 million Series A in October 2005.

TechCrunch compares it to other wikis, especially key competitor Wikia:

“Wetpaint has a much more newbie-friendly user interface than Wikia, and is targeting a different audience. Frankly, it’s just a lot more pleasant to look at a typical Wetpaint site than a Wikia one, although the content on Wikia is often much deeper than the equivalent on Wetpaint.”

I’d take this one step further: Wetpaint isn’t really just a wiki, it’s a wiki – blog – forum hybrid. Even novice users can just happily type away and create attractive pages with photos, videos, tagging …etc. without the usual learning curve. These pages can be shared, other users can contribute, entire communities can grow and thrive – in fact that’s what it’s all about: online community creation.

Last August I issued a challenge to find another wiki just as easy to use with a comparably rich feature-set – the challenge still stands.

My only concern is that they appear to burn money faster than the other wiki-companies – but I guess if the investors are not worried, it’s really not my business

smile_wink (And in fairness they have a different business model)

Update (1/9): VentureBeat comments:

“With Jotspot gone for now (presumably, Google will relaunch it in some fashion), and players like Socialtext increasingly focused on selling its wiki software to company users, Wetpaint is among the more convenient Wiki softwares for individual projects.”

As much as I like Wetpaint, I have to disagree. I’ve never considered it a project-oriented collaboration tool. It’s clearly geared towards community creation, and like I’ve hinted above, for that purpose it’s the friendliest platform avaialable today. Business -even small projects – requires a few additional features like document handling (attachments, version control..etc), email integration ..etc.

JotSpot was quite good for that, too bad it’s gone. Socialtext used to be quite ugly, but the new UI is quite nice – it misses a few features though. The new kid on the block is Zoho’s Wiki , (bias alert: I’m and advisor to Zoho) with quite a few features for an initial beta release. It already supports embedding documents, spreadsheets, presentations, videos..etc, and with improved integration to the full Zoho suite later this year it will be a killer combination.

Update (5/13/08):  TechCrunch article on Wetpaint’s traction.

post

Losers of the Google / JotSpot Deal

(Updated)
In my longer analysis of the JotSpot sale to Google I listed a group of JotSpot customers who may feel disadvantaged by the deal: those who’d rather pay to have their data at a company whose pure business model is charging for services than enjoy free service by Google whose primary business model requires dissecting/analyzing their data left and right.

I also pointed out that several competitors are offering deals to migrate these customers to their platform free or at a discount. Socialtext and Atlassian were the first to come forward with their offers, but since the previous post I heard about Central Desktop, (update: see correction in this comment by Central Desktop’s CEO), ProjectForum and I’m sure there are others. (Clearly, the wiki market is growing and sadly, I don’t know all the players). Jerry Bowles and Tom Raftery wrote more on the subject.

We all seem to have missed a point here: there is a group of customers for whom migration is not optional but a necessity: participants in the JotSpot Wiki Server beta program. Like I’ve said before, as much as I am a SaaS believer, it is not a religion, apparently the feedback from most customers is that they want their wiki behind the firewall – JotSpot’s response was the Wiki Server edition. These customers now have a rude awakening: JotSpot notified them that they would discontinue the beta program. Current customers have the right to continue using the product for the remainder of the 90-day beta period (what’s the point? smile_omg) but there is no support, no migration plan – game over, bad luck. smile_angry Of course JotSpot had the right to do this, these were not paying customers (yet), and a beta is a beta, after all. But a beta program is a mutual effort, and especially early on requires a lot of time and effort from the customers, so it’s clear that these customers may feel let down. While most competitive migration offers are hosted solutions, it’s this specific “betrayed” group that Atlassian goes after: they offer migration help and discounted rates on Confluence, their behind-the-firewall enterprise wiki. So let down or not, these customers may eventually be better off on a more mature, robust enterprise platform.

As a sidenote, this is the second time that JotSpot drops a product benefiting a competitor: when they discontinued JotBox, Socialtext reaped the benefits by moving those customers to their Appliance. Update: Please read the comment exchange below for correction by JotSpot.

Update (11/29): two post on how the deal affected JotSpot partners and customers:
JotSpot Got the Goldmine. Its Partners and Customers Got the Shaft.
The JotSpot Google Merger

Update (11/30) the above post, The JotSpot Google Merger is now deleted, supposedly under pressure by … (?) Read the story on TechCrunch.

post

JotSpot Google Deal – Who Wins, Why it’s Big:First Thoughts

A few weeks ago the “wikirati” was having dinner with the Enterprise Irregulars in San Francisco, on occasion of the Office 2.0 Conference. Our gracious sponsor was Atlassian’s Mike Cannon-Brookes, and JotSpot’s Joe Kraus showed up, too. Missing from the photo is Socialtext’s Ross Mayfield, who was there for the first part, a briefing for Forrester‘s Charlene Li, but left before dinner. (Hm, did Joe eat Ross’s dinner?smile_tongue )

(photo credit: Dan Farber)

I heard a rumor that one of us in the group had likely gotten a few million dollars richer – and it wasn’t me smile_sad… but Joe Kraus, having sold Jot$pot to Google. The source was credible but of course we had already heard about a Yahoo acquisition, then eBay .. so who knows, after all.

I found the timing ironic, just having come back from a Google briefing where they announced Google Docs & Spreadsheets, which left me largely unimpressed. This is what they were missing, I thought.

Today we know it’s a fact: JotSpot is part of Google. After the quick post, here are my first thoughts around who wins, and what it may mean from a user prospective.

Who Wins:

  • Joe, Graham and team for obviou$ rea$ons.
  • Google, for now they have all the pieces for a small business collaboration suite, if they are smart enough to get rid of the junk and integrate the good pieces together – something they have not done before. I’ll talk about this more a few paragraphs below.
  • Some paying JotSpot customers: Jot has had a funny pricing model, where you can start free, but if you exceed a page limit (10?) you have to upgrade. Most users probably don’t realize that because in Jot everything is a page (i.e. add an event to the Calendar, it’s a new page), 10 pages are essentially nothing, if you wanted to do anything but testing, you’d have to upgrade – until now, that is. From now on paying customers will enjoy their current level of service for free.
  • Competitors: JotSpot’s market direction has never been entirely clear; they focused on consumers and small businesses, but were present on the enterprise market, too. I think it’s fair to assume that they are out of the enterprise market at least for a while, leaving only Atlassian and Socialtext as the two serious players.

Who Loses:

  • Some JotSpot customers who’d rather pay but have their data at a company whose business model is charging for services than enjoy free service by Google whose primary business model is to know everything about you. Clearly there will be some migration from JotSpot to other wiki platforms. Update: the competition isn’t sleeping, see migration offers by Socialtext and Atlassian.
  • Me, for having half-written a post about the merits of pure wikis, Office suites and hybrids, which I can scrap now.

Who Needs to Move:

  • Some of the Office 2.0 Suites, including my friends at Zoho. This may be a surprising conclusion, but bear with me for a while, it will all be clear.

So far the balance is good, we have more winners than loserssmile_regular – now let’s look at what Google should do with JotSpot.

They have (almost) all the right pieces/features fragmented in different products, some of them overlapping though. They should kill off the weak ones and integrate the best – a gargantuan task for Google that so far hasn’t pulled off anything similar. Here’s just some of what I mean:

Google Docs & Spreadsheets:
One of the reasons I found the announcement underwhelming was that there really wasn’t a lot of innovation: two apps (Writely and Google Spreadsheets) put together in a uniform look and a file management system. It’s this very file management system that I found weak: how on earth can I work online and manage a jungle of thousands of documents in a flat, alphabetical list? JotSpot may just be the right solution.

Google Groups:
It’s rare for a mature product to go back to beta, but when Google recently did it, it was for good reason: the Groups which so far has been just a group email mechanism, became a mini community/collaborative platform, offering functionality found in collaborative editors like Writely, Zoho Writers, page cross-linking a’la wikis, file management..etc, combining all this with group email and the ability to share with a predefined group. I seriously considered it a major step forward, likely attracting previously “email-only” users to the native web-interface – and we all know why Google loves that.

JotSpot, the “hybrid” wiki:
This will be the somewhat controversial part. First of all, JotSpot is an attractive, easy-to-use wiki, and I believe that’s the value Google should keep.

Second, they’ve been playing around with the concept of being an application platform, which just never took off. The “applications” available in JotSpot are all in-house developed, despite their expectations the world has not come to develop apps on their platform. (Will this change in Google’s hands?). In JotSpot 2.0 they integrated some of the previously existing applications into user-friendly page types: Calendar, Spreadsheet, Photo ..etc, along with regular (text) wiki pages. This is what I considered Jot’s weak part. Just because a page looks like an application, it does not mean it really is:

  • Try to import an Excel spreadsheet into a Jot Spreadsheet page, you’ll get a warning that it does not import formulas. Well, I’m sorry, but what else is there in a spreadsheet but formulas? The previous name, Tracker was fair: it’s a table where you track lists, but not a spreadsheet.
  • Look at a Calendar page: it does not have any functionality. You cannot do group schedules, can’t even differentiate between personal and group events. It’s just a table that looks like a Calendar – reminding me the “electronic” calendars of corporate executives in the 90’s: the Word template that your secretary maintained for you and printed daily…

I guess it’s clear that I am unhappy with Jot’s “application” functionality, but I like it as a wiki. In this respect I tend to agree with Socialtext’s Ross Mayfield, who believes in best-of-breed (whether that’s Socialtext is another question…). Best-of-breed of everything, be it a wiki or other productivity tools. I’ve also stated that my ‘dream setup’ for corporate collaboration: is a wiki with an integrated Office 2.0 Suite. Why?
Other than its collaborative features, a wiki is a map of our logical thinking process: the cross-linked pages provide structure and narrative to our documents, one could think of it as a textual / visual extension of a directory system, resolving the problem of the flat listing of online files that represent fragments of our knowledge. Of course I am not implying that a wiki is just a fancy directory system… au contraire, the wiki is the primary work and collaboration platform, from which users occasionally invoke point applications for number crunching, presentation..etc.

Now Google has it all: they should kill the crap, and combine the JotSpot wiki, their own Office apps ( a good opportunity to dump the lousy Docs & Spreadsheets name), Calendar, Gmail, the Group email from Google Groups and have the Rolls -Royce of small business collaboration.
(Update: Dan Farber over at ZDNet is pondering the same: Is JotSpot the new foundation for Google Office?)

By now it’s probably obvious what I meant by Zoho having to make their move soon: they either need to come up with their own wiki, or team up with a wiki company. Best-of-breed is a great concept and enterprise customers can pick and match their tools on their own. For the SMB market it makes sense to be able to offer a hosted,integrated Wiki/Office solution though. So far Zoho is ahead of Google in Office 2.0, if they want to maintain that leadership, they will need a wiki one way or another.

Of course I could be way off in my speculation and Google may just have bought the team.. either way, congratulations to Joe, Graham and the JotSpot team. thumbs_up

Related posts: