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
Inside and out
Clearspace projects fall somewhere between a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and a full-blown project manager. Because you can quickly add tasks and checkpoints to a project calendar and easily update the status of jobs, I consider this a helpful feature.
I customized my project's page just as I'd done earlier with my main home page. In the case of projects, I added widgets that displayed discussion and documents related to the project – plus a list of tasks that required my attention.
Importantly, those outside your firewall (such as partners or vendors) can collaborate on documents; Clearspace handles this with a hybrid on-premise/SaaS (software as a service) technology that uses XMPP (Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol). Put simply, you put your documents temporarily into an Internet cloud and invite people in, then bring those documents back inside Clearspace when you're done.
Clearspace 2.0 makes it even easier to find content. For example, I browsed by space, content type, and tags, and used a very accurate search function. Tags, an enhanced feature, bring Clearspace in line with other social software. In essence, tags are a community-made indexing system akin to keywords. As users tag content, the files appear in a tag cloud that visually groups information by popularity.
For SharePoint integration, Clearspace's search results include documents residing in SharePoint. You can then link to these documents from Clearspace discussions, documents, or blogs. My one wish is that – from Clearspace – you could edit Office files and then publish your changes directly back to SharePoint. This limitation isn't a major flaw, but it does mean an extra step of going into SharePoint when document revisions are required.
For IT staff, Clearspace administration stays straightforward. From a Web page, I had no trouble managing spaces, granting users certain permissions, and configuring search. One new capability addresses the need for compliance. An auditing feature let me log all changes performed at the admin console.
Clearspace 2.0 makes a number of changes that further distances it from the pack of enterprise blog and wiki offerings. Still to be proven is whether this is enough to sway SharePoint users to purchase Clearspace as a complement. But with Clearspace's tight focus on people and work, compared to Microsoft's file orientation, I bet more than a few customers will run the two products. Clearspace would certainly be appropriate for departments and workgroups; the main thing you get with a large-scale deployment of Clearspace is being able to find expertise throughout the organization.
The only creditable social software competitor I see in the enterprise space is Telligent's Community Server 2008, which is based on Microsoft .Net. Shortly Telligent will release an Intranet Edition that includes SharePoint and Exchange integration (for interacting with Community Server using Outlook) – plus some very interesting data warehouse reporting – for $50 per seat.