Product review: Jive Software's social enterprise portal
Clearspace 2.0 makes the business case for social software with SharePoint integration, workable project management, and document sharing with external users
If the many business-oriented blog and wiki solutions are starting to look like one big blur, you're not alone. Most "Web 2.0 collaboration" vendors give you a departmental wiki that works about the same as the rest, but doesn't handle large enterprise deployments or connect with information in other parts of your organization. About a year ago, Jive Software successfully brought a lot of attention to the enterprise social networking category with Clearspace and Clearspace X, collaboration and community platforms, respectively, that provided unusual scalability and usability – plus they integrated blogs and wikis across the business.
Clearspace 2.0 extends collaboration outside the firewall, gives users more customization options, and adds project management. But even with all these admirable changes, Jive still faced a problem: how to convince users to purchase an arguably better social product when they may already have document-oriented Microsoft SharePoint Server with its own blogs and wikis. The answer: if you can't beat 'em, join 'em – by offering SharePoint integration.
Company and community
Clearspace 1.0's clean menus and design made it stand apart. Version 2.0 doesn't mess with that success, maintaining labeled icons on all pages that point to every type of document, such as wikis, blogs, and discussions. As before, an AJAX-style menu bar makes it easy to create or browse for content, as well as check on items you've created or are working on.
Conspicuous on this menu is the new Your View, which reveals a widget-based user interface. Selecting this option dropped me into the design mode, where I quickly picked from seven layouts and further personalized my home page by dragging widgets anywhere onto my design. Afterward, I easily edited a widget's properties – such as specifying that I wanted to "watch" certain users and be notified when they add content. RSS feeds and e-mail notifications are yet other ways to keep on top of changed content.
This customization is just one aspect of Clearspace 2.0's expanded people focus. Another way Clearspace fosters interaction is through personal blogs, which you might think of as lightweight Facebook sites. To create one, you just select the space where it should appear. Moreover, editing a blog is much like writing a discussion or document; Clearspace has rich text and plain editors, along with moderator features and extended options for posting at a certain time.
Blogs are part of an expanded personal profile where you add information that might include interests, past employers, and expertise. By searching this area, Clearspace finds other users with similar backgrounds – basically a trimmed-down expertise search feature.
Further, Clearspace can combine profiles with information in LDAP and Active Directory servers to build a useful organization chart. I believe configuring Clearspace in this way could give people even more facts about who they are working with and how a business is structured, which might lead to better collaboration opportunities.