Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Thoughts on Wetpaint

Frank of Frankwatching read what I wrote previously on Socialtext and Jotspot and asked me what my opinion was on Wetpaint. He runs a very popular Dutch blog on digital trends, like blogs, wiki's and Web 2.0. He named Wetpaint his favorite wiki a while ago because of its usability. So I went to their site and sandbox and it is amazing how userfriendly it is. The boys/girls from Jotspot, Socialtext and the Wikipedia can learn something from it! However it is more for use on the internet then on the corporate intranet, since it comes in short there. It also seems they don't want to be in that arena, but try to make it easy for people to have their own wiki's on various subjects and make money from ads on those pages. So here are my thoughts on Wetpaint.

The Good
- Easy user interface. You can explain this to anyone. Wysiwyg done right
- The user interface for uploading pictures is exactly how people would expect it. It works with a popup box that lets you select the picture from your harddisk, upload it and put it in the page.
- Usage of tags can provide valuable meta-information. This is great with large wiki's
- The 'Page Toolbox' gives a good overview of what you can do with a page eg: send, print, edit etc.
- Excellent user page that shows who the user is, with user provided information, their edits etc. This was the one thing I really missed in both Jotspot and Socialtext.
- Nice design of the site and it seems it can be skinned and changed to fit the content. I saw one site on the tv-series Lost that really caught a vibe.

The Bad
- The editing box is too small. It should be page size to encourage people to enter text. If you want to share knowledge you don't want people to feel guilty that they use up more space.
- There are no tables in the wiki. Tables are practical and you can't do without in a corporate environment
- There is no possibility to send e-mail to a page, thereby immediately loosing my vote for the corporate environment. In the corporate environment an e-mail to a page can cut down the e-mail clutter and will be instant sharing of the contents of that mail with the entire company instead of three co-workers.
- It can only be used as a hosted service and there is no possibility to shield it off from the rest of the world. This is logical in their business model, but they could beat a lot of the standard wiki's by offering it in different ways.
- There is no possibility to edit HTML. Now I'm all for ease of use and shielding the normal user from the technical details. However, when there are powerusers, you want to give them the possibility to use the powers they have to improve what they are entering into the wiki. So where I criticized Socialtext for needing to go to advanced (HTML)-mode, I am critiquing these guys for not having one. It should be this way: you should never need it, but should be able to use it.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Socialtext versus Jotspot

Well I worked with both Socialtext and Jotspot. Both systems are Enterprise Wiki's. They have suprised me and buying either one I think is a good idea. There is no reason why I would want to use a primitive wiki like Mediawiki in the organisation. Mediawiki has only one edge over the Jotspot and Socialtext and that is that you have a good centralized user page, where a user can get an overview of what he has done, what has changed and inform others of who he is. Both Socialtext and Jotspot don't have someting like that.

Enterprise wiki's are great because:
  • They center work on a topic around a group of webpages
  • They are easy to use. Socialtext is just a double click on a page
  • They open up information to the entire organization through simple searches
  • Information entered into them for the benefit of the project group is immediately also of benefit to others. So when doing my job, I unintended also help others
  • They enable sending e-mail to and from pages, enabling e-mail repositories and lists of useful links on the relevant page.
  • By sending an e-mail to the relevant project page, you add both metadata to the page and to the e-mail.
  • They are free form, but can be structured
  • If one co-worker doesn't update his page, because of time constraints or just being dead, others can.
  • They can be about such highly critical information as: Best restaurants in Berlin, travel suggestions to Kiev, the latest law and its implications, biographies of important people, a list of insultants, the next project meeting or the office Christmas party, without requiring a central command and control structure.
  • They don't assume where knowledge is in the organization.
The way I tested was. Getting an account, fiddling with them for a week or two and then letting them be for 3 weeks and then fiddling some more and come up with a conclusion. Socialtext was the wiki I showed to colleagues who didn't know what a wiki was and why they would want one. Jotspot was the one I used for colleagues who knew wat a wiki was, but wondered if it was versatile enough. Jotspot was the one that kept me most thinking about what I could do more with it, what kind of apps I would like to develop etc. Socialtext was really the wiki where I thought I would need no formal training for colleagues.

All in all, I would choose Jotspot. But if I would have to buy it for 2000 people, I would seriously request some changes in the software. However if you choose Socialtext you'll be happy to know that for the most part you won't need to think of implementation or user education.

Thoughts on Jotspot

Well, the previous post was on Socialtext and as promised, this one is on Jotspot. A while ago I posted something on knowledge management in organizations. In that last post I already indicate that wiki's seem to solve most of the problems. In my opinion Jotspot is the best solution for an enterprise wiki at the moment, though Socialtext wins on ease of use, which is a very important point too. However, the problems of Jotspot are easily fixed. But lets start with the good and end with the bad

The Good
- Easy to use, uncluttered user interface with a good WYSIWYG editing tool. Not as easy as Socialtext, but still.
- The editing tool has a good arrangement of functions including tools for tables. This makes that editing is as straight forward as in Word
- You can easily add new applications to your wiki, like knowledge management tools, weblogs, company directory, spreadsheets, photogallery's, forums, bug reporters, project management tools etc. It is only a click away.
- You can even add and build your own applications in Jotspot.
- You can send e-mail to the pages and add attachments to pages. It is even sophisticated enough that you can import Word and Excel including pictures right into the pages.
- You can right click text and format the text the way you want it.
- It has RSS feeds of entire wiki's and specific pages
- Administration allows for easy editing of user privileges with regards to pages.
- Good pricing plan. You can use it over the web and you can buy an appliance.
- Seems very flexible, with scripts, XML and other features. It really looks like the platform hasn't reached the end of its potential for a long while.

The Bad
Some of the problems I had with Socialtext show up here too.
- Attaching images to pages is done through adding a URL. So you first need to attach a picture and then link, or find it on the net. Should be just a little dialog box and an upload feature.
- When you want to mail to a page you need to add a code to the page. In company situations you really don't want that. It requires explaining and explaining is bad.
- No integration with corporate LDAP or Active Directory.
- (Same as Socialtext) Every unique user should have a unique users page. On the one hand it should allow him/her to make an introduction, contact details, to link to pages they have edited, their weblog, projects they are on, tasks they have to do and links to the project pages. It should be the homebase for the user for much of its editing and also a place for others to find out what you're working on. (For an example, see wikipedia) This last gripe is one of my major ones, together with the next one. For Jotspot it would allow a great integration of all the various applications with a central place for the user to get his information.
- it could help structure projects etc with some pre-structured workspaces and pages. People should just be able to click buttons that say: Start new project. Start new workspace. start new informational page etc.
- E-mails at the bottom of the page should be threaded and collapsible.
- Just having a left windowpane leaves an uncluttered view, but also wastes screenspace that could be used for more information.
- Looking at the bugs pages of Jotspot doesn't give me a warm feeling someone is working on the bugs. No comments, no status updates etc.
- Many of the applications could use a smoother user interface and sometimes feel rough at the edges, like they haven't been really finished yet.
- Sometimes it feels slower than socialtext.
- Really bad is that internal links aren't done by a simple button, but by a complicated one looking like a W. It is called Toggle WikiWords. No idea what it meant until I started using it. I can't expect a 49 year old computerphobe to understand this in the first look --> They should look at Socialtext.
- Focus on Wikiwords while linking internally and new pages. WikiWords are two or more words joined with no spaces and capitals for each word like this: WikiWordsAreNotEasyForNewbies. It should just be a selection of a couple of words and than a click of a button. Turns out it can work that way, even with spaces. But it isn't explained like that and it doesn't follow from the user interface.
- I still haven't found out what Anchors are. (if you edit text anchors show up like green blocks around text, if you go out of edit mode, nothing shows up).

Great system, lots of potential, lots of possibilities. It is sometime rough around the edges. It makes me worried that co-workers wouldn't really understand everything and would need coaching and training to introduce them to the system. But lots of the ajaxie widgets give me the idea that every 6 months there will be a new app that will make some colleagues work easier. I do think I would choose it over Socialtext because of this.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Thoughts on Socialtext

As said in a previous post, I'm looking into wiki's to support knowledge management and just the general work within my organisation. One of the wiki's I'm looking into is Socialtext another one that I will write about later is Jotspot. Socialtext offers a nice free trial version online. So you can look at it yourself and always do, because I might have missed something, or your needs might be different.

The Good

- The best thing of Socialtext is its double click editing. It just can't get easier. You double click, the page turns yellow where you can edit it and it shows an editing toolbar, like you know from Word
- The toolbar is very straight forward and user friendly
- The way it deals with links is very easy to use. It has an icon for an (internal) link, an external link, link to an attachment and one to include an image however the image one is under bad.
- You can send e-mail to pages
- In the side bar, you get a good view af what you've done recently
- There are instant weblogs
- Links to non-existant pages have dotted line under them. This way you know there is nothing there yet and you can easily edit it yourself.
- It supports RSS. Now if only Internet Explorer would support it.
- you can organize your pages in Workspaces. So for each project a workspace.
- pricing is affordable and you can either get it as an appliance or through the net.
All in All it has all the main features and several more I would want in a proper enterprise wiki.

The Bad (or some improvements I would like to see
- There is a simple mode for editing and an advanced mode. Advanced Mode is HTML-like in syntax and therefore not straightforward. Some things can only be done in advance mode.
- the image and attachment function is only available in advance mode and because of its HTML-like syntax probably unusable for normal people. It should preferably open up a dialogue box, ask for the picture to be inserted, upload it and show it.
- E-mail to pages requires the name of the page to be in the subject field of the mail. Should be in the adress, before the @-sign. It now uses the name of the workspace before the @ sign, but not a securitycode like jotspot. If you give every page an e-mail adress, users will not have to think of writing the name of the page correctly in the subject field. Furthermore they can more easily cc a page as a central repository of mail.
- E-mail to pages shows up at the bottom of the page, without a possibility to collapse the mails, sort them into threads , so with potentially tens of e-mails, the page could get a long tail.
- it is not easy to see at first how to start a new workspace --> this is done in the Settings page
- it is unclear if you can close viewing of a page to a selected group of people. Sometimes this could be very handy. (Say you're organizing a party for the company and people are not allowed to know the secret progams)
- Every unique user should have a unique users page. On the one hand it should allow him/her to make an introduction, contact details, to link to pages they have edited, their weblog, projects they are on, tasks they have to do and links to the project pages. It should be the homebase for the user for much of its editing and also a place for others to find out what you're working on. (For an example, see wikipedia) This last gripe is one of my major ones, together with the next one.
- it could help structure projects etc with some pre-structured workspaces and pages. People should just be able to click buttons that say: Start new project. Start new workspace. start new informational page etc.

Definitely worth considering. Tough to make a choice between Socialtext and Jotspot. Though at the moment I would choose Jotspot because it has more features and I like some of them alot. More about Jotspot in a later post.