Observations from where technology meets business

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Collaborative Online Lists

Everyone uses lists. Some of us are more serious about using lists but we all use them. We use them for keeping track of tasks we need to do, shopping for groceries, maintaining contact information, and in hundreds of other ways. We also use lists when we work with others (for example, on a project team or with colleagues in our workgroup). Lists are important for keeping track of the work we are doing together, for sharing information, and so forth. Collaborative online lists are simply lists that are easily accessible and can be maintained by multiple people.

Perhaps the most popular list-editor is Microsoft Excel. Of course, this use of Excel does not exercise any spreadsheet calculation feature. Excel simply makes editing lists easy. A quick browse through Microsoft’s online Excel template catalog reveals a number of list-only templates.

However, the problem with using Excel to manage a list, such as project team’s issue list, is that it is stored in a file and files can be black holes of information (recall that I hate files). Files tend to be treated as personal items and not easily shared. A project’s administrator may keep a list of issues and send it out just before a weekly meeting but that is about as much sharing as we see when lists are kept in files. Need to find out about a particular issue before the next meeting? Well then call the project administrator on the telephone.

Collaborative online lists avoid this problem by being stored online so they are easily accessible and the responsibility for updating them can be shared. The good news is you may already have the most popular online collaborative list solutions running within your intranet. Lists can be found in collaborative workspace products such as EMC/Documentum eRoom (where lists are called databases), Lotus Quickr, or Microsoft SharePoint.

If done correctly, collaborative online lists can support both emergent and hierarchical uses. For example, I know of a large company that was going through a significant downsizing. They were running SharePoint on their intranet and someone created a list to capture information about people leaving the company. It started filling with names and became quite popular. That is, until HR shut it down (I suppose there are other lessons to learn here). Nevertheless, this is a good example of an emergent online list.

Collaborative online lists can also support hierarchical use cases. For example, large development efforts often consist of many teams within a hierarchical reporting structure. Imagine having a workspace for each team and each one maintaining a list of issues in a common format. These lists could then be rolled up and consolidated to provide managers with a broad overview of all issues (yes, culturally, this may be challenging). eRoom provides a similar function with their “Enterprise Database” function.

If list items have unique URLs they are easier to reuse. For example, you could use social bookmarking systems to bookmark and tag an issue (or any type of list item) and associate them with other related web pages or sites on the intranet. This way an issue within a list can become part of a larger enterprise knowledgebase.

Collaborative online lists are a lot like wikis. I view wikis as replacing Word files and collaborative online lists as replacing lists kept in Excel files. In both cases, information is easier to access and uniquely addressable (and, hence, easier to share and recall).

However, there are a few things collaborative workspaces can learn from wikis, the biggest of which is security. Often times the default security of a collaborative workspace limits access to no one, except those specifically invited to the workspace. Wikis tend to be open from the start. However, wikis marketed to enterprises can also be tied down, just like the traditional collaborative workspace. So, this isn’t necessarily a technology problem.

This is a repost of a blog originally posted on the Collaboration and Content Strategies Blog

Is Bluenog’s Use of Open Source Sustainable?

There have been some recent interesting posts discussing Bluenog, a company which sells the Bluenog ICE (integrated collaborative environment). This is a product consisting of a portal framework, content management system, a report generator, a wiki, and a calendar all working within a secured environment using a granular permission model and is capable of integrating with enterprise single sign-on systems. The system looks to be very Enterprise 2.0-ish and may provide a useful intranet environment that brings together the breadth of information needed by knowledge workers. I had a chance to look at the product at the recent Enterprise 2.0 conference and talk with the company in an extended briefing. The product should get the attention of many IT managers.

While the Bluenog ICE product itself looks interesting, it is the business model the company uses to develop it that is causing a controversy and, in my opinion, raises some flags. Bluenog advertises itself as an open source company (or, rather, that is what most people walk away thinking when they have seen or read about the company). To be precise, here is what Bluenog says about their use of open source:

Bluenog ICE leverages several open source CMS, open source collaboration, open source portal and open source BI projects. These projects provide the building blocks for Bluenog ICE and allow us to provide tightly integrated solutions at a fraction of the cost of traditional alternatives.

The web page linked above lists a total of 19 open source projects as being used within the Bluenog product so, clearly, Bluenog is a consumer open source software. However, although the distinction may be subtle, the way Bluenog uses open source is different than what most enterprise IT managers may be expecting.

First, let’s be clear, Bluenog sells a proprietary product. Bluenog does not make the resulting source code of their commercial product available via an open source license. Paying customers get a copy of the source code but this offers none of the benefits, such as transparency and choice, that enterprises can gain from leveraging open source. What can you do with a copy of the source code? Open source becomes powerful when it is out in a community, gaining new features, getting security flaws fixed, etc.

Second, the only company that has benefited from Bluenog’s approach to open source is Bluenog itself, not its customers. But the sustainability of that benefit is questionable. Let me explain.

A number of the open source products used, which provide core ICE features, require significant changes to work in the Bluenog framework and these changes are not contributed to any sort of open source community. In essence, major parts of Bluenog are built from forks of open source products that are folded into their proprietary framework. Any enhancements or security patches from the originating open source community would have to be manually integrated into Bluenog because they are now separate products. For example, Bluenog is built with a version of the Hippo CMS that is one major version behind the main project.

So the question enterprises should be asking is this: Is Bluenog’s development model sustainable? Arguably, other companies have used open source this way. For example, IBM’s Lotus Symphony is based off an old version of Open Office. However, Bluenog is different for two reasons. First, Bluenog isn’t IBM. They are a startup and have limited resources. Second, they are creating a whole new integrated product based off of the amalgamation of several open source products, which sounds like a big integration challenge. IBM is re-basing the next release of Lotus Symphony on Open Office 3. Can Bluenog say the same about Hippo CMS? Do they care about future versions of Hippo CMS or are they content with keeping the older code, essentially turning these pieces into their own proprietary code?

If I were an enterprise IT manager considering Bluenog I wouldn’t let their use of open source sway me at all and evaluate them as a proprietary software vendor. I would also start asking questions about how they plan on sustaining the development of the product. Bluenog’s approach to using open source may have helped initially to get the first product out the door faster. However, the enterprise software market is a marathon not a sprint.

This is a repost of a blog originally posted on the Collaboration and Content Strategies Blog

Why Do Wikis Have More Adoption?

John Tropia says “What’s happening is that wikis are actually replacing a process, they are becoming a new way to do group work.” I think the explanation is simpler. To me, wikis represent documents and people understand documents. However, wikis store documents on a web page rather than within a file.

Wikis are tapping into a schema which people already use. After a little introduction it’s easier for people to understand wikis than other social software because they are based on something familiar.

So wikis aren’t necessarily replacing processes but they are replacing directories of documents (and improving navigation among them). People understand documents. They are necessary to get much of their work done. Documents are built into existing processes.

I may hate files, but I absolutely need documents. What I am hoping we will see is a redefinition of document.

Why wikis have more adoption?

What sparked today’s post is a post from Sameer, 2009 is the year of Enterprise 2.0? Hold your horses….

In his post we see that Wikis are gaining more traction. I think this is because they are more:

  • group based tools
  • based around a task (an environment of certainty)
  • help with process failure, and
  • don’t require network effects like blogs and social networks …ie. wikis and forums don’t need lots of people to take off, all they require is a small group of people.

Library clips: Do group tools get more traction due to not requiring network effects, and being in the context of certainty

ACMEpedia/Endeca-pedia

trimmed IMG_0095ACMEpedia = Wikis + Tags + Facets

Today at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference we saw a presentation from Pete Bell, Co-Founder of Endeca, called "ACMEpedia: Wikis, Tags, and Facets." As part of the Advisory Board I lobbied for a session like this and I am grateful for Pete being here.

Pete told us how Endeca applied their own "guided summarization" product to aggregate information from several sources and present it within an intuitive interface for employees to find information and learn about Endeca's business. The intranet site is called Endeca-pedia and it provides a functional view of corporate data and content coming from:

  • Formal documents stored in eRoom and Alfresco
  • Business process information stored in SalesForce and QuickArrow
  • Informal knowledge stored in a Confluence wiki

It was interesting to see how this combination of structured and unstructured information can be navigated.

I'll post a link to the slides once they are available.

SocialCalc

socialcalc

At the Enterprise 2.0 Conference this morning Ross Mayfield is announcing that SocialText is releasing a production version of SocialCalc, a multi-user web-enabled spreadsheet embedded within SocialText wikis. You may recall when Dan Bricklin announced some time ago that he was working with SocialText to make a commercial version of wikiCalc.

I had a chance to talk with Ross about it earlier and I have to say it looks impressive.

Excel may be the most used collaborative application in business today. We often don't think of Excel this way but many companies make critical business decisions based on data tracking, reporting, and modeling done through Excel. Often this work is done collaboratively among several people.

SocialCalc looks to provide a new approach to traditional Excel-based collaboration by embedding spreadsheet capabilities within SocialText wikis. This has the potential to enhance many existing collaborative spreadsheet scenarios and likely creates a whole new set of possibilities as well. Even a simple spreadsheet embedded within a wiki page benefits by gaining useful wiki features such as version control with rollback and functioning completely within a browser.

In addition, SocialCalc  has a number of options for referencing structured data stored elsewhere. For example, SocialCalc can reference named ranges in other spreadsheets and also query web services (check out this early screencast of wikicalc).

Although SocialCalc is not the first product to offer collaborative spreadsheet capabilities (SharePoint 2007 and even Hyperion Performance Management come to mind) but being embedded within a wiki makes it an interesting option for enterprises to consider.

Wikipatterns Book

I missed the announced release of the Wikipatterns book but I am thrilled for Stewart that it has been published.

I first noticed the Wikipatterns wiki almost a year ago and wrote about it on Collaboration Loop. The site is a tremendous resource for Enterprise 2.0 advocates. I am also intrigued by the application of patterns to wiki adoption and wonder if they can be applied elsewhere.

I had the pleasure of meeting Stewart at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference last year. We happened to be sitting next to each other at the same table during lunch and had one of those pleasant small-world "Oh, you're the one that...!" moments.

The Wikipatterns book is now available both online and in “brick and mortar” stores in 10 countries! To help you find it, I’ve compiled a list of stores currently selling the book. Just find your country and choose the bookseller you prefer. The link will take you directly to the product page for Wikipatterns on that store’s website.

Source: Where to find the Wikipatterns book in online and retail stores around the world

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