(For the most recent articles on Web 2.0, check out my full Web 2.0 articles category.)
(This original post was written in July 2006. There have been MANY updates. Please read all the way through to the end of the article for all updates as my opinion has changed over time as the vendors have updated their offerings.)
(Most recent update: Feb 28, 2007 is at the bottom)
Wikis are on the rise in corporations. And it’s about time. They are light weight replacements for heavy weight knowledge management systems and are also a way for your user community to generate content that is better, faster, and probably easier to read than you can as a vendor. One way to enable them to contribute would be to build a wiki and let them flesh it out. Some good examples are coming up in this article: “Corporate wikis breaking out all over: MSDN Wiki” by Dion Hinchcliffe. (He has another great post as well called “Exploiting the Power of Enterprise Wikis“)
Quote of the day: “Not leveraging the contributions of a company’s most impassioned and enthusiastic customers is starting to be seen as a significant oversight in many business circles.”
It appears in the article that eBay is using Wikis to better communicate between their users, partners, and suppliers. Now MSDN (Microsoft Developer Network) is using their pages to improve the quality of their developer documentation with the MSDN Wiki. THAT is a great usage. Your users often know your product better than your engineers and product managers because they have to live with it day to day. And guess what? If they tell the truth about some part of your product being broken – that’s a GOOD thing.
CORPORATE WIKI TOOLS REVIEWED:
I have looked at a lot of the corporate wiki tools in the past six months. Unfortunately we are still at the awkward pre-pubescent stage. I haven’t yet found the best tool that has all of the following characteristics. I want a tool that:
- is beautiful
- is easy to use
- integrates with our corporate authentication system
- allows users to “email to a page”
- has rock solid WYSIWYG editing (including tables!!)
- can absorb Microsoft Word’s messy HTML without barfing
- has great management tools for pruning and gardening the wiki
- allows for attachments of files
- includes great threaded conversations on a page
- is hosted but can also be used in an appliance inside the firewall
- has granular user & group security privileges (ideally tied into Active Directory)
Atlassian’s Confluence is the best of them so far. Pros: the overall design is clean, it has advanced management tools, good security, and simple attachments.Its email function has to pick mail up from a POP box which makes it a little bit less ad-hoc but still functional. And most importantly, it also has great tools for moving pages around. Cons: Text editing, like with most apps these days is a bit dodgy, and pasting in blocks of text from Word is likely to cause problems. The pricing model is reasonable but for some reason (possibly because they’re from Australia), they still don’t have a directly hosted option so you have to use somebody like Contegix or deploy it on your own box. This seems to be a big and obvious oversight on their part these days. Also, their pricing model doesn’t encourage small deployments right off the bat. I think this is the one that we’ll use more of internally at the company where I work. Summary: The best of the enterprise wikis today, and one of the best options for scalability. [Update: see updates at bottom – they now have a hosted option and low-end pricing.]
Next would be JotSpot. I can only recommend JotSpot for really small deployments though. Pros: The text editor is pretty good and the tables even work reasonably well. The pricing model is good, the setup is quick, it’s pretty easy to use and understand, and you can also buy it in an appliance that you keep inside your firewall and integrate with your security infrastructure. Cons: The design is quite clunky, the font sizes are huge, there is a lot of wasted screen real estate, the “applications” they can install are really lightweight and not that useable (what’s up with that awful blog module Joe???) There are also bad page renaming bugs that can and do bite you in the ass. Summary: I have built several wikis in JotSpot and it’s probably the best for simple wikis for smaller teams with a few pages. But I wouldn’t want to scale it out very far. It isn’t robust enough. [Note: Jotspot was acquired by Google and has closed off the ability to register but has also stopped billing its current clients. See below for more information.]
WetPaint is a newcomer that is doing some interesting stuff and that might be a better bet than JotSpot. Pros: The design is beautiful, the tool is very easy to use, the text editor is one of the best I have seen. Cons: I’m not clear on their entierprise suitability and it’s not really their target market. It didn’t appear that they had much in the way of administration tools, granular security, or any way to integrate into a back-end authentication system. Summary: I met one of the WetPaint guys at Gnomedex but he didn’t seem to know the product very well. Hopefully next time, they’ll put somebody more knowledgeable at their booth who knows the product in more detail. I think they’re worth watching to see what they do in the next few months.
Socialtext: I have tried on at least four separate occasions to use and like Socialtext but I can’t. Pros: Ross Mayfield, the founder, “gets it”. He understands that lightweight wikis will be important in the enterprise. It includes “email to a page” functionality and you can buy the Socialtext appliance and integrate it into your back-end. Cons: the text-editor is the weakest of the bunch – they only just added WYSIWYG in the last few months and the table stuff is quite awful. The word HTML handling is poor. There are few management tools. Summary: I just can’t use this application. I don’t know where they’re putting the money that SAP invested in them because I can’t see evidence that it’s improving the application. I can’t recommend it for anybody. Go with one of the other three above instead. [UPDATE: See Feb 28, 2007 notes below.]
I didn’t cover all of the many open source wikis here: MediaWiki, XWiki, Twiki, etc. because most, if not all, have to be downloaded and installed and I’m more interested in enterprise quality wikis with the feature set I noted above.
This post brought to you by Joy from the album “Thankful” by MaryMary
UPDATE: I modified my summary line above for Confluence to make it more complementary. I was feeling a bit sour on the whole category when I wrote it before and had written “It is the best of the worst” – a phrase I often use when discussing the best in a category that has significant problems. But it’s more fair and accurate to just say “the best so far.”
I also saw a note from Jon Silver at Confluence on their blog responding to my comment on hosting.
“The question of hosting comes up now and again. To set the record straight: it’s not an Australian thing—there are many good examples of Aussie companies bringing hosted software to the world! Software as service has gained a lot of attention by great companies like Salesforce.com. It’s a good model. But we’ve found that our customers really enjoy being able to host the application themselves and fully customise it to meet their needs. For some organisations, their security policies require them to manage software themselves. Nearly 1,500 customers in small, medium, and large organisations use Confluence inside their firewalls today. As pointed out in the review, Contegix (and other Atlassian partners) are available for people who need a hosted wiki solution.”
I disagree very strongly and here is why. Australia is far behind the North American market in terms of broadband penetration so your view is probably skewed by this. I’m also not stating that it’s binary and that it must be one way or the other. I’m commenting on the fact that you have too many barriers to adoption that are precluding you from making the money that you could make if you would get out of your own way. First barrier: I can’t just fill out a form and start using it. Second barrier: I would have to have the IT resources to find a box to run it on. Third barrier: I would have to download and install it and get it working – I have ten years of computer consulting and I gave up on your install process because it wasn’t a point and click install – you’re still selling to geeks. Fourth barrier: Your pricing model puts Confluence out of the range of people who want to start small and grow.
Fix those problems and you have a chance at dominating this space. But right now Socialtext and JotSpot which are far inferior to your product, are probably going to beat you simply and easily because they are hosted, they are easy to test, they are easy to use, and they have great and simple pricing models. Which will be too bad because once again, better marketing (focusing on the basics of removing barriers) will win and the better technology (your product) will lose.
UPDATE FOR JANUARY 13, 2007:
Jotspot was acquired by Google for an estimated $50M on an estimated $3-4M of trailing revenue. NICE MULTIPLE. Sheesh. Can’t help but wonder if those numbers are real. 12x trailing revenue??? Wow. Not sure of those numbers though in any case.
Wetpaint raised a second round of financing. The plot continues to thicken.
And Atlassian is releasing a hosted version! At the risk of sounding like a PR flak, I’m going to give a lot of kudos to the Atlassian team, some of whom I have come to know over the past six months. They are a nice bunch of people and are very smart. They are finally launching a hosted version of the wiki and were so kind as to let my company test it out over the past few months while they worked the kinks out of it. Within my company, four different project teams independently came to the same conclusion as to which was the best enterprise grade wiki (I led one of those teams) and we have now standardized on Confluence as our enterprise wiki tool. So far, the adoption is reasonable, but we haven’t done a ton of marketing yet and had too many sign-up / authentication barriers in the way that we are now removing. The pricing looks like it will give them a great low-end feeder product that could help them achieve the much-desired “foot in the door without IT involvement” in small or large enterprises. It may end up simply being lead-generation rather than profit center but that’s not a bad thing.
Confluence still looks and feels like an application sold to early-adopter geeks but the team at Atlassian is very aware of the user interface deficiencies and are working to remedy that.
Way to go guys. I hope you have an amazing 2007!
February 27, 2007 update is here