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10/7/2009
12:02 PM
Alexander Wolfe
Alexander Wolfe
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SocialCalc Could Help Wikis Grow Up

Have you been wiki-ized? I don't know if that's a word, but if you work at a tech company, you know exactly what I'm talking. Mostly it's been Clearspace which has provided the platform that's doubled your e-mail load, even as it has genuinely helped us all grope towards greater levels of collaboration. But there are other innovators in the wiki space, notably Socialtext, which has just advanced the cause of group-wise spreadsheets. In the process, they could push wikis towards better real-world

Have you been wiki-ized? I don't know if that's a word, but if you work at a tech company, you know exactly what I'm talking. Mostly it's been Clearspace which has provided the platform that's doubled your e-mail load, even as it has genuinely helped us all grope towards greater levels of collaboration. But there are other innovators in the wiki space, notably Socialtext, which has just advanced the cause of group-wise spreadsheets. In the process, they could push wikis towards better real-world usability.The news hook for this post is a recent e-mail I received announcing that Socialtext is about to take SocialCalc, its collaborative spreadsheet, out of beta. Now, a beta entrance or exit doesn't mean much anymore -- paging Google -- but SocialCalc would be interesting if for no other reason than the fact that its lead developer is VisiCalc creator Dan Bricklin. (Speaking of VisiCalc, I think of Bricklin as the computer industry's version of all those songwriters who got screwed out of their royalties.)

Here's the squip on SocialCalc from Socialtext's press-release-like blast: "Unlike other online spreadsheets that mimic Excel, SocialCalc not only enables large teams to edit a spreadsheet jointly, but they can upload dynamic content to it as well, including web links and wiki pages. In addition, SocialCalc has tight version control and administration features, making it easier to set access and maintain the security and accuracy enterprises need."

If you're thinking this sounds a lot like Google Docs' spreadsheet, I can't say you're wrong. I naturally assumed that SocialCalc was closely tied to Socialtext, and it is, but there is also an open developer community (the Socialtext Open Developer Community, here) from which you can download a lot of stuff, including the 'sheet, for free.

Now, there are a lot of wiki hosting platforms, both proprietary and free. The purpose of this post isn't to get into a comparison, other than to mention that Clearspace, which is the most popular paid solution, is widely used for both inward and outward facing sites. I.e., it's used for a lot of internal corporate wikis, as well as for public-facing Web sites like Jive Software, is also most often used in SaaS mode, though it is also available for on-premise hosting.)

Anyway, so my point here is, we are now in the first part of the first stage of wiki deployment. You know, that toe-in-the-water phase where everyone gets their feet wet and says, "Ain't It Cool." Next, though, folks will want to extract some real value, otherwise wikis will become more of a "have to use" than a "want to use."

This, to me, is the real significance of something like SocialCalc. It says to me that wikis are about to morph from an e-mail alternative (an adjunct, really) into a self-styled space where you can really do stuff.

Of course, spreadsheets alone aren't enough to get this done. Widgets, though, could be just the ticket. Consider what SAP did recently, when it made available widgets from its business intelligence products, which you can embed in your Clearspace wiki. (This enables you to share bar charts and graphs, and in general spruced up your wiki blog posts with meaningful data.)

Me, I'm looking forward to the day when I no longer have to log onto both my e-mail and my wiki, and can just go right to the collaborative space as the one-stop shop for all the work teams with which I want to interact.

Here's a video I shot in early 2008 with Ross Mayfield, CEO of SocialText:

Here's a video from June, showing how that SAP embeddable wiki widget works:

Follow me on Twitter: (@awolfe58)

What's your take? Let me know, by leaving a comment below or e-mailing me directly at alex@alexwolfe.net.

Alex Wolfe is editor-in-chief of InformationWeek.com.

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