MasterNewMedia
Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi
 


Tuesday, February 15, 2005

YahooGroups, Groove Or Socialtext Wiki: My Personal Impressions

Thanks to the courtesy of Ross Mayfield, I have been experimenting with my small geographically dispersed team, how effective a wiki can be in supporting projects in which multiple professionals contribute and complement each other.

socialtext_tagline.jpg

In the past I have made heavy use of technologies at the extremes of the asynchronous collaboration spectrum. From completely free ones such as web-based YahooGroups, which offers everything from a mailing distribution list, to files archiving, polling of the group and calendaring, to much more versatile and rich commercial applications such as the desktop-based P2P full collaboration solution offered by Groove Virtual Office.

While the first approach has severe drawbacks in terms of privacy and intrusion from ads, both in the online facilities as well as in your inbox as a consequence of having signed up for a Yahoo service, the second one has issues relating to the level of computer hardware required, and the performance impact it may have on your other applications. Groove is also plagued by an excessively conservative and rigid access and protection system, great for enterprise customers, but absolutely suicidal for the SOHO and small business user.

I don't know how many of my colleagues and teammates have had to recur to re-install Groove from scratch as a consequence of the difficulty of storing or retrieving access codes once they are created. I myself have just lost my laptop, who died of over-resistance to being patched, and I am at a completely loss as to how I will be able to access again my account on Groove. I know I am not alone in this and I have duly reported my frustrations to Groove in the past. What I am asking is the provision of an option that allows the end user to select the level of security that she wants to enable at installation, while providing the ability to safely store and later retrieve one's own username and password with ease.

On Yahoogroups this is never an issue as, like most web-based systems it allows registered users to safely retrieve their username or password with a few steps that are easy and now familiar to many Internet users.

yahoogroups_logo.gif

But, and really I am just speaking of my own experience, I was never completely happy with either one of these systems.

As said, Yahoo annoyed me with too much advertisements both on its online facilities as well as in my inbox.

With Groove, I am never sure who I can safely invite without getting them in a complete nightmare. The issues that most frequently annoy my potential teammates are:

groovelogowht_180.gif.gif

a) the need to download a large application

b) the fact that Groove demands a pretty recent hardware setup with a fast processor, lots of RAM memory and possibly a fast connection to the Internet too.

c) issues dictated by its complexity and richness, whereby not everyone can easily and promptly understand or find out how to achieve something.

d) the fact that Groove works only on the Windows platform. Like for all collaboration tools to be used in cross-enterprise teams, being limited to interoperate only with people having the same type of operating system is a great limitation today.

Happily, Groove can now be utilized also from ANY other operating system, thanks to the great work done by the PoPG team in the UK, who sells access to a supercool service called Blended Groove ($30/user/month) and which provides web-based access to your Groove account from anywhere and with ay type of OS.

But, as you can imagine this doesn't come for free. The Groove full version costs in excess of USD 170, (price actually varies depending on where you are located and in relation to the version you choose).

So, when I headed out to test Ross Mayfield's SocialText wiki workspace, I didn't expect much, as I thought wiki spaces allowed yes for collaborative posting of notes and files but not for much more of what I had become accustomed to find in these more established and popular collaboration solutions.

I was wrong.

As you can find out yourself by accessing the free 30-day try-out offered by SocialText, wikis can provide a very effective collaboration workspace that is both easy-to-use and rich enough in features to support many teamwork-based projects.

While each wiki (there are tens of different types of wiki technologies out there) can be rather different from another one, all wikis share one thing in common: they let users edit web-based content in a very simple and straightforward fashion providing great support to those projects where you need to post, comment, annotate and update information with other team members on a daily or even hourly basis.

Access is as fast as to getting to any standard web page. No software needs to be downloaded, no plugins need to be installed.

Navigation is immediately simple and once you understand how to do two things (create a new page and make a link to it) you can do most anything you want.

You can create pages with assignments, references, attached files and images that your selected teammates can access privately and update, extend, re-organize at any time they wish.

It is as simple as working inside a normal text editor. Text can be formatted very easily, and making a change to an online document requires only a few seconds.

Weblogs and RSS are integrated from day one. You can also create as many "workspaces" as you want and utilize each one of them to manage a different project or workgroup. Each workspace is in fact associated with the people you select and it is extremely easy to remove or invite new team members.

SocialText wiki workspaces generate email notifications, RSS feeds and Update pages that allow any team member to easily monitor and rack any progress and changes to the workspace without needing to access it directly.

Everything that is composed, edited and written in the wiki maintains a full track record of the changes made, and the administrator(s) can easily revert any document /web page to any previous state it was in.

Workspaces in the SocialText wiki can also receive emails from any of the team members, which are immediately organized and made available to all the other workspace members.

For my own experience, this is indeed a great collaboration technology that can be extremely useful to virtual teams of non-technically oriented people. It bridges ease of use and access with all the advantages of being web-based and open to any operating system.

If I were to recommend an alternative solution to the likes of Yahoogroups (and similar ones), Groove and other asynchronous collaboration spaces I would have no hesitation in indicating a wiki, and the Socialtext implementation in particular, as a great alternative to such other approaches.

Having worked daily on the SocialText wiki workspace for a few weeks now, I only have a couple of issues that I personally look forward to see improved:

a) Speed. For a web-based solution like the SocialText wiki, speed is of the essence. I mean, if I click on a Web page to edit it and I need to wait for 20 or more seconds while being on a T1, I may as well go back to Groove.

b) Cost. The SocialText wiki workspace is presently priced at $30/month/user. At this price level Ross is cutting out all of the professionals, SOHO companies and non-profit institutions out there, including a great deal of academic organizations. Not that the tool isn't worth that money each month, but being totally innovative collaborative technology, at least for the mainstream, a much lower entry price would positively guarantee much wider adoption. What is most ironic to me, is that those customers groups are probably the types of organizations that can take best advantage of this new technology, as large corporate accounts take a much longer incubation time to comprehend, test and certify such innovative technologies for adoption. My suggestion therefore is for greater diversification of the price offering and for a substantial lowering of the cost to professionals or small business teams (1-10) like the ones I often operate with.



To those of you that already use a wiki with productive results, I wish to ask which are the true alternatives to Ross' system and what are the differences in terms of costs and features?

For independent publishers, professional consultant, small virtual teams operating online is money spent on the SocialText wiki workspace well spent or should we be looking elsewhere?

 
 
 
Readers' Comments    
2006-11-06 17:48:30

Dan Randow

One alternative to Yahoo! Groups and Google Groups that could be considered by people who favour email groups is OnlineGroups.Net.

http://onlinegroups.net

It provides email groups with an excellent web interface and no ads. You get your groups on your own customizable site, too. Trial groups are free and reasonable fees are charged for larger groups.

It's based on the open source collaboration server GroupServer.

http://groupserver.org

The folks at OnlineGroups.Net are constantly developing this technology and keen to help customise sites to meet specialised requirements.

http://onlinegroups.net/products/sites



2006-05-13 12:16:48

Wend

Your feedback about SocialText Wiki workspace is pretty spot-on. I'm a new user and have been using SocialText for less than a week and am already ready to name my firstborn after these guys! The thing I really like is that editing modalities are responsive to range of users of different competencies. Without knowing much about it, advanced editing appears to be something super powerful and flexible...good for people who already know their way around. However, for people such as myself (ie. technologically reluctant, "last adopter" types) there's a basic editing function that is acessible, intuitive and simple without being simplistic or constrained. In the basic 101 mode, I can still achieve everything I need to get done without experiencing the user frustration that generally plagues people such as myself who see the potential value of an application, but just can't figure out how to use the thing. SocialText Wiki does not frustrate the user, it runs fast and jumps high - what more can I say but two thumbs up!

P.S. And no, I don't work for them and neither does my brother-in-law - just a private person who is basically grateful to finally find a technology that is useful, relevant and very, very clever.



2005-06-15 09:47:45

Rup3rt

What's the fuss? You can knock up a SocialText clone with Drupal in a day.


Write a list of your requirements, choose your modules and then pass it to a techie to put it together for you. Tweaking the front page to show latest & most popular posts plus using the wiki module crank up the possibilities.



2005-04-06 18:49:53

Jamie Billingham

I have also been exploring various wiki and other collaborative tools for the past few monthes.
I started with ProjectForum but was scared off their hosting disclainmer which translated to "we won't help you with much so don't even ask".
I then tried SocialText. I work in the world of non-profs and even with the revised pricing it was just a bit too much. I want all our association members to have access, not just 5.
Next stop was seedwiki which is a really nice space visually. Very clean compared to SocialText. This is important when you are trying to get newbies to buy into using new technology. Problems with seedwiki... My blog disappeared.. just gone... Also, no response from them when I asked about pricing. If your're going to have a link for support or to ask questions then you need to reply. It's been a week, no reply, I'm gone. (Especially when I say I have the cash, just tell me the conversion rate and where to send it)
Had the same issue with Breeze, which I really love. I have requested a price 3 times over the past month. Just want the price on the presentation option. Clearly, they don't want my business.
So, last night I signed up for a Web Collaborator account. Also a very clean and simple looking site. Have encountered a few problems already but nothing major so I have high hopes.
What I have discovered out of these experiences is that there are some really important requirements for collaborative spaces.
Ease of use is number 1. This includes really clear instructions on how to set up and use. Screen shots would really help.
Cost is a consideration but is balanced by ease of use and support. I also tried Hyperoffice, forgot about them. Excellent support but they don't have a wiki option.
Support is BIG. I don't have time to spend an hour figuring out someting. I'm a two click chick. If it takes more than that then I need to be able to get help via a human or excellent documentation.

My blog lives at
http://e-mergentlearning.blogspot.com/



2005-03-02 16:40:16

Doug Hudiburg

Very happy to see this discussion. I have been using Wikis for distributed team projects for 3 months now, and absolutely love the application.

It is true, you have to immerse yourself in the wiki technology in order to "get" how it can be leveraged for collaboration.

I am currently using Wikepage from Cyrocom (www.cyrocom.com) which is an open source Wiki tool. It is very bare bones and lacking in bells and whistles, but it was a good way for my teams to get started.

I have also started a Peace wiki using the open-source MediaWiki tool (this is the tool that powers WikiPedia) http://widipedia.sourceforge.net. MediaWiki has many more features and will be the tool I use for my next project.

We simply deploy our wiki's to a password protected directory on our server and share the password with each team member.

BTW. I'm also a Groove power user. I like the project wikis, but can't give up asynchonous access to my files when I am not connected to the Internet.

Wanted: a Peer-to-Peer secure project wiki that resides on my hard drive but synchs with other team members via the Internet.

Doug



2005-03-02 15:58:29

Ludovic Dubost (XWiki)

Hi,

I'm the founder of XWiki, which you might have come accross thanks to Jonathan's link (it didn't seem the guys from JotSpot and SocialText where ready share their knowledge about the competition with you, namely EditMe, Seedwiki or XWiki).

I hope you'll get the time to give XWiki a try (you can create a free wiki at http://www.xwiki.com) which is both a hosted service and an OSS software with application development capabilities inside the wiki. Pricing you should like as it is priced to be accessible even for SOHO workers.



2005-02-28 11:03:48

Don Diego

I am at present testing JotSpot. Very promising, very exciting, perhaps the tool I've been looking for for years but… it is still in beta and too bugged. I am still afraid of giving it a try in my company.



2005-02-26 10:19:33

Robin Good

While I must effectively congratulate SocialText for having taken the opportunity to revise their pricing model, especially in light of the many small businesses and professionals who could greatly benefit from the use of such a service, I must make a further comment relating to the new pricing scheme.

SOHO and professionals have a monthly budget range going from 0 to a maximum of $20-30/month (assuming they are not paying already for too many other team support technologies).

SOHO and individual professional users also have a greater preference for one-time fees rather than recurring monthly payments.

Assuming a small virtual team has between 3 and 8-9 people working in it, the new pricing offer announced by SocialText makes a professional like me spend $80-90/month to provide a wiki workspace to my team-members (yes, team-members never pay for their space. The cost is always on the team leader and project originator).

My personal feeling is that this cost is still prohibitive for SOHO and professionals and that it will prevent SocialText from being able to gain a wide adoption rate by those, who again, would be benefitting the most and would also be the best marketers of the SocialText wiki itself.

As personally suggested to Ross Mayfield, the correct price point for this service is between $10 and 25/month for a team of 5 to 10 people.

The killer marketing tactic here is to offer the free-trial for a much longer period of time (say 60 to 90 days at least) to allow free-wheelers to build enough familiarity, content, and team confidence in the tool not to want to leave it thereafter. The same tactic has worked wonders for Groove and I think it is indeed a super-intelligent way to market online services like this online.

What do you think?



2005-02-25 22:50:56

Jonathan Nolen

Take a look here for a list of some other commercial wiki vendors.

One of the key decisions is whether you need a hosted service or whether you want to run the software yourself. JotSpot and Socialtext are examples of the former. Confluence, which hasn't been mentioned but is worth checking out as well, is an example of the latter.



2005-02-25 02:21:23

Scott McMullan (JotSpot)

Hi Robin,

Thanks for your post. Great to see wikis getting compared and contrasted to other collaborative products like Yahoo! Groups and Groove. I work at JotSpot, and would love to help answer your, "which are the true alternatives to Ross' system and what are the differences in terms of costs and features?" question.

The best way would be to take Jot for a spin yourself -- let me know and masternewmedia.jot.com (or other name) can be provisioned for you. A few highlights are listed here: http://www.jot.com/compare/index.php

-Scott McMullan
scott at jot.com



2005-02-24 19:06:39

Robin Good

SocialText just expanded its pricing option allowing SOHO and small and medium businesses to start leveraging the efficiency and ease of use of a wiki workspace.

Socialtext Workspace is available as a hosted service for $10/user/month. Alternatively Starter Package for 5 users for 1 year is available for $495.

Non-profit organizations and academic instutitutions get the same great service for $5/user/month or a Starter Package for $245.



2005-02-20 18:20:22

John T. Maloney

Hi --

Robin, thanks for your review.

Yahoo! Groups is a joke. It is hard to understand why the firm doesn't take it seriously. It is a real stinker.

Google Groups is a lot better for this class of service. http://groups-beta.google.com/

Users report SocialText is hard to use. Can't substantiate. It is also very hard to work with the firm. They undershoot/don't understand their market. They do get points for financial bootstraping.

I use SharePoint Blog (gasp!) and it really sux too. There will be some changes soon...

http://kmcluster.sharepointsite.com/Cluster/

http://www.jot.com/ may hold more promise for broad institutional wikis.

It might be unfair to compare Groove with these offerings. It is an entirely different class. Groove is an amazing product, but requires serious, enterprise-class process engineering, implementation and deployment. It is scalable, but large deployments are for experts only. Individual deployments are not for the faint of heart. Groove is a collaborative geeks dream.


Hosted SharePoint is incredible. It illuminates the Office Suite into something beyond the imagination. Highly recommended.

http://www.kmcluster.com/Conversation.htm

The approach here is to adopt a collaborative ecosystem and application framework. It matters more how it gets used, versus how it works. (Or what smug tech celebrity is pushing it.)

Here is a good paper from friend.

http://www.kmcluster.com/CAMaTGS.pdf

Cheers,

John

John Maloney
T: 415.902.9676
ID: http://public.2idi.com/=john.maloney

Create the Future! Join the KM Cluster

Action/Research Calendar:

Southern California - Social Networks: http://www.kmcluster.com/lax/
Silicon Valley - Social Networks: http://www.kmcluster.com/sfo/
Cleveland - Social Networks: http://www.kmcluster.com/cle/
London - IC Metrics: http://www.kmcluster.com/lon/

Blog: http://kmcluster.sharepointsite.com/Cluster/

Workspaces: http://www.kmcluster.com/Conversation.htm



2005-02-18 17:26:54

Ross Mayfield

Thanks for the stellar review of Socialtext!

Especially the honest feedback on performance and pricing.

BTW, Mike who commented about Jotspot -- should have disclosed that he works for their PR Firm.



2005-02-18 14:12:32

Richard Eckel

Robin,

I obviously read your posting with great interest.

A couple of points. As you correctly point out, with Groove Virtual Office you pay a one-time fee for the client license, you don't pay recurring monthly fees. As for our pricing, there is a single worldwide price for our software. Our File-Sharing Edition is US $69, the Professional Edition is US $179, and our Project Edition is US $229. Again, this is a one-time fee so the price benefits of Groove Virtual Office are compelling.

Also, you and many others have expressed dissatisfaction with our solution to the problem of when someone forgets their Groove password. Good news: We've addressed your concern.

We have a feature in the forthcoming 3.1 version that will allow "unmanaged" users to reset their password if they forget it.

In 3.1, "enable password reset" is automatically turned on. If you forget your password, similar to a website, we'll send you a temporary password that you can use to access your Groove account. You can then create a new password.

This new capability will be available in v3.1 that is shipping "soon." We'll certainly let you know when it's available.

This new feature is a direct result of your feedback, and that of many others who expressed their frustration. Thanks.



2005-02-16 16:31:32

Robin Good

Mike, I would be more than happy to give a good test to it. As a matter of fact I had already signed-up to be one of their early adopters.

Thank you!



2005-02-16 16:19:50

Mike

Robin, you mentioned wanting to hear about wiki alternatives. You should consider JotSpot. The company's product is still in beta, but I can get you an account if you're interested.



2005-02-16 04:30:02

Alan Levine

Not sure what SocialText offers that you cannot find in a 2 dozen other wiki packages, except for those that do not want to host or tinker with the technology.

It seems one only "gets" the power of wikis by a successful wiki experience. I used a rather simple wiki with 2 Canadian colleagues in July 2003 to develop more or less an outline and a collection of resources for a teleconference presentation. We built it collaboratively from our locatioms in Arizona, British Columbia, and Alberta, and since then the amount of content has quadrupled as others added to it:

See "The Fuss About RSS"
http://careo.elearning.ubc.ca/cgi-bin/wiki.pl?TheFuss

It is light years beyond the headache of pushing around a Word document by email. On the other hand, turning a wiki into an "enterprise" tool will likely overburden it with complexity.



2005-02-15 22:07:04

Dimitar Vesselinov

Cracked Apps and Broken Groups

"For years I've seen Yahoo's groups feature as something with immense possibilities. For Yahoo, there is the promise of building and driving a huge, loyal user base. And for users, of course, the groups' interface is potentially a powerful thing. Offering a mailing list, photo and file storage, a chat interface, calendar, links area, and more, Yahoo groups tools seem tailor made for finding and working with like-minded people worldwide. (Though it's true the tools are in great need of updating, but I'll get to that below.)

That's why I could never understand why Yahoo doesn't take it more seriously. The groups feature seems to have been put in place and mostly forgotten about. And until recently I didn't get why users don't seem to really use the features offered. In most of the groups I've seen - and I've seen several hundred - the discussion area is run over with spam and long since abandoned, and the links page likewise."

"As it stands, everything at Yahoo groups, after a time, shouts AMATEUR HOUR. And I've thought this for a long time now, not just since this morning. Yahoo really needs to devote some effort to FIXING it. Or else delete it altogether, because right now, it turns off more people than not. And this from one who tried to make some part of it worthwhile."

http://mobileeyes.blogspot.com/2005/02/cracked-apps-and-broken-groups.html



 
posted by Robin Good on Tuesday, February 15 2005, updated on Saturday, January 21 2006


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