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.

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.

Admin tracks
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.

InfoWorld Scorecard
Performance (20.0%)
Management (15.0%)
Value (10.0%)
Scalability (10.0%)
Ease of use (15.0%)
Features (20.0%)
Security (10.0%)
Overall Score (100%)
Jive Clearspace 2.0 8.0 9.0 8.0 8.0 9.0 9.0 9.0 8.6

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.