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Review: JotSpot's 'Less Nerdy' Wiki Still Needs A Little Work

The latest version of this innovative wiki combines an Office-like interface with a variety of collaborative online apps. But does this combination really work?

For years now, wikis -- shared Web pages where groups of people can gather and update information, archive documents and messages, and otherwise collaborate -- have been touted as the next great workplace tool. Unlike most corporate intranets, wikis can be updated by anyone who's granted permission, and built-in revision tracking makes it easy to roll pages back to a previous version if errors are introduced.

Review: JotSpot 2.0

•  Up And Running

•  Building The Beast

•  Beyond The Basics

•  Flies In The Ointment

•  The Bottom Line

So why aren't we all using wikis? One big reason is the geek factor. Because of their open-source roots, many wikis don't have the sleek interfaces, not to mention the bells and whistles, that most of us are accustomed to seeing in our software.

With the release of the 2.0 version of its wiki software, JotSpot has set about to change that. According to a company press release, JotSpot 2.0 "eliminates the complexity and nerdiness of wikis" by behaving in a way that average computer users are familiar with -- namely, like Microsoft Office. The new wiki offers a series of templates for creating different types of Web pages, including shared calendars, spreadsheets, photo pages, and file cabinets for archiving any kind of document. You can also import files you've created in Microsoft Word or Excel as pages in your wiki.

To create a new page, choose a name and select a template. Click image to enlarge.

JotSpot 2.0 is a hosted service, in which your wiki is housed on JotSpot's servers. The company offers several pricing levels, ranging from the free Personal Plan, which gives you 10 pages and allows you to share your wiki with up to five users, to the $200-per-month Company Plan, which gives you 5,000 pages and unlimited users. (A version called JotSpot Wiki Server that lets you host the wiki on your own servers behind your firewall is in beta testing; pricing is still being determined but is likely to start at $100 a month for 25 users.)

Up And Running
Since I'm always in search of better methods of sharing information with my co-workers, I decided to give the hosted service a whirl. Signing up took just moments: I chose a jot.com address (as in http://yourwiki.jot.com), entered some basic contact information, and opted for the Personal Plan. The first time I tried this, the server hung for quite some time, but that's likely because of my timing: I signed up immediately after JotSpot 2.0 was announced, and I suspect I was part of a stampede of curious users all trying to test out the service simultaneously. When I signed up for a second account a week or so later, everything went without a hitch.

Interestingly, right after my first signup attempt I received not one, but two notes from customer service reps saying, "There was a slight glitch at the time you requested your account. As a result, your account was not provisioned." I found it amusing that a company striving to make its product less nerdy would choose such language (I still don't know what "provisioned" means), but I appreciated their quick communication. The reps assured me that they were working on a fix and would contact me when the problem was resolved. I never heard from them again, though I did receive a generic JotSpot e-mail welcoming me to my new wiki.

In the meantime, I had already gone to my wiki's address and begun playing around with it. I initially encountered a few bugs (such as comments I added to pages not being saved) and cryptically worded error messages, but these problems resolved themselves over the next few days, and soon I was wiki-ing smoothly.

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