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
CubeTree's secure, cloud-based enterprise collaboration suite (hosted at Rackspace) impresses on many fronts. To begin, there's value, with the standard version free for life, for unlimited users. Collaboration tools (wikis, microblogging, blogs, file sharing, and user profiles) match the usability of popular consumer social networking sites.
For enterprise use, CubeTree's feed architecture is perhaps its most notable feature; users can broadcast their activities from within CubeTree or through integration with consumer and enterprise products, including Twitter, Google Docs, Salesforce.com, WebEx, Adobe Acrobat Connect Pro, and Basecamp.
CubeTree's microblogging, similar to other Twitter-like products, handles 140-character conversations about what you're doing, with the option for others to comment. However, CubeTree makes it easier than the other products reviewed to control what you follow (such as particular people or external Twitter posts), so only relevant information gets displayed on your home page. You can further tune feeds to show updates that interest you, such as activities of certain groups. The built-in full blogging feature lets you easily share longer thoughts.
User profiles hold lots of information, yet you determine what appears about you in the "corporate directory." For example, you might decide to share all activities that you perform outside of private groups, including blog and wiki posts, along with document and photo uploads. You can also keep your account synchronized with Google Docs.
Another helpful feature, Your Connections, shows where you fit in the organization chart, your physical neighbors, who you track, and who tracks you. While this isn't a match for a dedicated expertise-locator application, it does help in finding people who might have similar interests and experience. And that's important because CubeTree lacks formal user communities.
A recent improvement to CubeTree's wiki lets you embed rich media (Google, Vimeo, and YouTube videos, as well as Scribd documents, for example). What's more, there's one-step file sharing. However, general wiki and blog editing could be improved. For instance, adding links to internal CubeTree pages requires several steps.
As noted, your profile page lists the documents you've uploaded. Basic metrics are also available, such as how many people have downloaded files you've shared and wiki page views. As such, you can quickly determine the usefulness of this material to others. However, there isn't a formal way for others to identify who are the leading experts on various topics.
I particularly liked CubeTree's groups, which are easily created compared to Socialtext's multistep procedure. Besides CubeTree's public and private groups, you can also create cross-company groups -- which I found to be ideal when sharing information with partners or outside agencies -- and unique among the products tested.
CubeTree gave me an exclusive chance to test the new group chat feature. Put simply, instead of people getting in line to comment on a post, multiple users can carry on an interactive conversation in a special chat room, much like group instant messaging.
The photo sharing feature is akin to Facebook, with the capability to upload pictures and tag people. But there's a business twist: The iPhone client lets you take a quick snapshot of a whiteboard so that meeting participants at remote sites can see what's being discussed.
Another feature that highlights integration is Trip Itinerary sharing, where you enter travel plans directly into CubeTree or by syncing with systems such as Google Calendar or TripIt. (You have total control over which trips are broadcast and which are private).
CubeDeck 2.0, an Adobe AIR desktop application, mirrors the messaging part of CubeTree. With CubeDeck, I found it easy to make status updates and comments, as well as display a full feed or employed filters.
Lastly, CubeTree has various ways to find information, ranging from unified search and document search to tagging. All worked quickly and accurately.
Overall, CubeTree's feed architecture and other collaboration tools are top performers. Add in the best security model of the cloud services we reviewed and you get strong competition to the more established products.