Rolling Review: PBwiki Works Best For Small Projects

The service ably handles tasks such as posting documents and commenting on them, but projects containing 50 or more tasks are unwieldy to manage.
Rolling Review
Web 2.0 Collaboration Tools
Business value
We're testing Web 2.0 collaboration products and services, weighing their project management capabilities.
Reviewed so far
> Central Desktop: Secures collaboration once staff gets up to speed, but you'll need a separate product for videoconferences.
> PBwiki: Service lets users exchange ideas and contacts securely but isn't the tool for large project management.
Still to come
CallWave, Digital Samba, Jive, Google, Microsoft, Novell, Polycom, Socialtext
>> More about this Rolling Review <<
PBwiki's namesake service allows almost anyone to create wikis without much effort. And in our tests for this Rolling Review, the service ably handled tasks such as posting documents, lists, or files, and commenting on them. This will make it a good fit for some uses--for example, CRM at a small business or collecting resources for a modest market research project.

However, the service fell short as our test project size grew. Once they contain 50 or more tasks, projects become unwieldy to manage using PBwiki.

PBwiki lets users create pages and folders via a rich text editor, although links between pages and folders are created manually. Three levels of page access easily can be assigned: Reader (with read-only privileges), Writer (read/write privileges), and Editor (read/write/edit privileges). Folders have a fourth level: Administrator.

Security will be difficult to manage for all but the smallest projects. For example, if a project has eight team members, PBwiki suggests creating a folder for each member. If each team member creates five folders with a dozen or more pages, we could have hundreds of security settings in the wiki. In a legal action, this complexity could be a significant problem.

PBwiki does provide communications security. At appropriate times, we noted that the links were safeguarded with Secure HTTP. In tests, an external member whose access to a page was restricted couldn't change that page.

Manual Management
Project management with PBwiki is mainly a manual effort. Unless you add them, there's no Gantt chart or calendar that gets populated as you add deadlines. If you want to track costs, you'll need to do it separately with a spreadsheet. Also, to give access to the spreadsheet to all key managers, you'll need to link them individually.

Tracking progress on a project is also a manual process. There are no task dependencies, making it difficult to set priorities and determine that Task A must be completed before Task B.

Our Take
PBwiki is useful for managing small projects or projects with a lot of social interaction. It's most appropriate for schools, small businesses, and personal use.
PBwiki will help your sales team exchange ideas and contacts securely, but it isn't the tool for most project management.
Managing security was difficult. We spent too much time attempting to determine who had access to what portions of a project.
Subdividing a project with milestones is another task you'll need to do manually. If you want tasks related to milestones, you need to structure pages accordingly. For example, we created a page with a list of milestones: A, B, C, and D, and linked to a new page containing the tasks related to milestone A. We found that if you assign task 2 on page B to a user, you'll need to create a page for the user and copy the task to that page. When the user completes the task, the project manager or user must update the progress of the task every place that it appears in the project.

PBwiki suggests this reduces a manager's workload, but it's a significant amount of manipulation for all but the smallest projects and adds to the complexity of security. Such progress could be tracked in a shared spreadsheet or table, but the same access issues would arise. PBwiki says future upgrades will let pages and folders be grouped in order to apply access controls.

Business-level collaboration almost always involves some form of audio- or videoconferencing. However, PBwiki lacks conferencing of any kind. In contrast, Central Desktop has links to Skype and

Pricing is based on the number of users. A restricted version of the service, free for as many as three users, is designed primarily for personal use. For four to 999 users, the fee is $8 per user per month.

Phil Hippensteel is an assistant professor of information systems at Penn State University and an industry consultant.

Editor's Choice
Mary E. Shacklett, President of Transworld Data
James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer