Enterprise 2.0: Corporate Wikis reviewed (update)

Over the past month and a couple of conversations, I have had the opportunity to speak with Ross Mayfield, CEO for Socialtext. Ross has very rightly pointed out that there have been major changes since July 2006 when the original posting went up and I agreed that since I’m keeping the post up, that I should be current with where Socialtext is today. They have done a lot of work since my July 2006 post, including:

  • updating the interface in version 2.0 which was released around August 2006. It is indeed cleaner and simpler than the original one by a long shot. Nice job on that guys.
  • releasing an open source distribution of the wiki;
  • they released a mobile version (I have not looked at this);
  • they released an offline sync tool that allows you to take all or part of the wiki with you offline, make changes, and then resync them. I haven’t tested it but that is a really cool feature. Now that we’re building out a lot of pages in our wiki at our office, I can see the value in having that ability, although as with all syncing/replication, the devil is in the details.
  • Basic text-editing, the core of the application is still really really basic. Tables are not functional at all, with no real ability to move rows and columns.
  • They have also announced that they are working with Dan Bricklin on combining Wiki Calc with Social Text to create Social Calc. I pointed out to Ross that if they are planning on using a spreadsheet tool to also be a table tool, that I’m not sure I believe it. They are different animals with different behaviours (or at least, traditionally they have been.) He is attempting to use Social Calc to be a universal sheet / table editor right within the main wiki page. It will be interesting to see if that bet pays off. I’m all for simplification and innovation. If they can combine the two into one functional sheet/table editing mode, good for them.

So, what does this all mean? Has my opinion changed? Well in the days since I wrote this, Atlassian and Socialtext have continued to grow at reasonable rates, and the market for corporate wikis has heated up. Some of their competitors have been aquired and gone into the horizontal layer (Jotspot into Google). And they are now being joined by companies like Jive Software with Clearspace or Blogtronix and SystemOne. It’s time for me to do a new vendor bake-off I think…. Until then, here is my one-line horribly opinionated overview of the vendors at the moment but I realize I’ll have to do them all justice by reviewing them more fully very soon. Here goes:

  • Atlassian/Confluence: solid enterprise wiki with on-premise and hosted options; an ecosystem of partners who extend the wiki functionality; a solid team running the company that is focused on revenue AND profit; and a somewhat dated interface which they are addressing in the next release; extensive management tools; really solid exporting functions. I  recommend this product, despite its UI quirks as they are focused tightly on being profitable above all and on knowing who their customers are.
  • Socialtext/Socialtext Workspace: many deployment options: hosted, on-premise, appliance; nice looking and intuitive interface; focused on solving the hard problems (mobile, offline) but slow in dealing with the fundamentals (the text editor is still really bad – tables are awful and functionality is very limited); have been early and loud proponents of wiki use in corporations; very supportive of the open source movement; are working to integrate in Social Calc – too little too late? Jotspot has spreadhseets, Google has Google sheets, Zoho Office has sheets, everybody has sheets; less obvious management and administration tools; If you need mobile and offline use, Socialtext is your only option. The text editing is limited and the lack of useful tables is a non-starter for me but maybe not for others. Also the only remaining appliance/wiki vendor now that Jot is out of the picture.
  • Blogtronix: doing some very interesting work by combining blogs, wikis, and social networking for the enterprise. I have not reviewed them but a friend called the other day to say, “These guys are “coooooooooooool” so I’m intending to check them out soon.
  • Jive Clearspace: a single platform that combines blogs, wikidoc module (for creating documents collaboratively), forums, document management, identity, and reputation into one seamless whole. Great visual design; solid fundamentals (they are the forum technology used by Apple, SAP, and Citrix for example); new product though so may have standard v1.0 issues; wiki functionality is really aimed at document creation rather than large-scale wiki development. I’m just reviewing the product now but haven’t made any final determinations at this time.

Stepping up to the bigger picture, there are two overall trends going on here. Much if not all of the features found in collaboration tools today is going to be heading either down into the horizontal players infrastructure (Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, IBM/Lotus), or else becoming features inside other industry categories (enterprise software for example!) Second, I believe we’re about to see the same pattern we saw with enterprise applications many years ago: the rise and fall of stand-alone applications and then the rise of comprehensive suites, particularly as consolidation hits. In the social software space, I think that will play out as applications becoming suites and both of them being consolidated into larger vendors quickly. It should be an interesting year or two ahead of us.