Enterprise social software spurs connections

The InfoWorld Test Center reveals the strengths and weaknesses of blogging, wiki, and community solutions from CubeTree, Jive, Socialtext, and Telligent

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Socialtext Enterprise Social Software 3.5
About six years ago, Socialtext introduced the first enterprise wiki. Today, Version 3.5 has morphed into a modular platform that integrates three main applications.

[ Discover how wikis have evolved as collaboration tools. ]

Socialtext Workspace is the upgraded wiki. Socialtext People provides enterprise social networking through user profiles and Socialtext Signals, a Twitter-style microblogging interface. Socialtext Dashboard allows workers to customize the presentation of their information feeds using gadgets based on the OpenSocial framework; think of these as the Web 2.0 answer to portlets.

I tested the hosted service, which doesn't integrate with directory services (LDAP or Active Directory) and is missing SharePoint and Lotus Notes connectors. Otherwise, everything else is included.

The personalized start page blends different types of information that's displayed through customizable widgets. To begin, I easily inserted a Workspaces gadget, which summarized various wikis I used for collaboration; a variation of this widget displayed detailed information from a particular wiki. Moreover, the Recent Conversations widget showed whenever someone made a change to pages that I participated in.

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Further, I displayed information from outside of Socialtext, including RSS feeds, photos, and blog entries. Next, I inserted viewers for Google Calendar and MapQuest. Perhaps more important for enterprises, the Microsoft Outlook widget faithfully displayed my corporate e-mail and calendar.

Also, because the components are based on OpenSocial gadgets, you have great possibilities to integrate information from specialized enterprise applications. For example, a programmer with basic JavaScript and HTML skills could build a gadget to display a help desk ticket's status.

Like most enterprise wikis, Socialtext Wiki Workspaces keep information in one spot rather than spread throughout each person's e-mail or shared network drives. (Because e-mail isn't going away, you can conveniently have the content of e-mail posted to the workspace.)

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Like the CubeTree, Jive, and Telligent wiki solutions, Socialtext let me embed video and attach PDF files. The WYSIWYG editor, additionally, made it a snap to embed other Web content (Google search results, for example) and all types of information from other Socialtext Workspaces, such as tagged pages.

Besides an alert on my dashboard when content changed, I also used the Socialtext Desktop (an Adobe AIR application) to keep tabs on the activity streams of people and pages I followed.

Blogs are available, along with some features designed for internal collaboration. As expected, authorized users can contribute to a conversation, freely creating new posts or adding in-line comments. However, Socialtext lets you see a full history of all revisions, which makes blogs more collaborative.

Another important difference is that blog content can be tagged, then included in tag clouds or discovered using the very good search engine. And as with Workspaces, you can subscribe to blog content changes. Finally, I appreciated how easy it was to have blog content automatically appear on other blogs (cross posting) by simply tagging the post with the other blog's name.

For organizations especially concerned about security, Socialtext (with the remotely managed on-site appliance) is the only software-as-a-service offering that can be run behind your firewall.

Socialtext's REST-based API makes integration with other systems easy. And Socialtext gives IT shops extensive management tools; for example, administrators can decide which widgets may be installed or modified by end-users. I was also impressed with SocialCalc, a very slick native Web application cowritten by Dan Bricklin (of VisiCalc fame), though the software is still in prerelease form. With SocialCalc, multiple teams can concurrently work on many worksheets distributed throughout numerous workspaces.

The limitation I see is that Socialtext lacks formal communities, and it's missing a few of the lesser functions, such as polls. I'd also like to see user profiles hold more information, which would make them more helpful in finding expertise within an enterprise. But overall, Socialtext 3.5 has come a very long way in functionality and usability.

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