Clearspace X fosters customer relationships through online communities

Easy-to-use collaboration package injects team-building features such as IM and presence awareness

Successful organizations typically share one important trait: they listen to customers. In the Web 2.0 era, perhaps the best way to embrace -- and extend -- this concept is through online communities. Jive Software has taken its Clearspace collaboration product (which glues together blogs, wiki, document management, and discussion forums) and endowed it with new features specifically for building these public-facing communities.

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The external edition, Clearspace X, is an easily administered J2EE application or hosted service that lets you quickly create communities; in turn, each is structured by understandable topics. For example, a financial institution could have communities for banking, loans, mutual funds, and retirement. Each community would contain specific blogs, wikis, and forms. I found this scheme far better for quickly finding relevant information than having it spread throughout one large site. Clearspace X also has content ratings, a reward system, question and answer, polls, and announcements -- all of which help members stay engaged while hopefully forming a positive opinion of your organization.

Usability is especially paramount with public applications and Clearspace X nails this part. The main interface, which is easy to custom brand by adjusting style sheets, clearly lists each community. Once inside a community, members use tabs to quickly reach discussions, documents, and blogs.

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Prominently placed action lists let users post new discussion threads or perform other authorized tasks. I liked the ability to mark a discussion thread as a question, which encourages others to share their experiences or point the originator to an answer. The main toolbar offers an alternate way to create new content, while providing access to “Your Stuff,” such as open questions. As an incentive to answer questions, the top posters are prominently shown on the community home page and elsewhere in the site.

Creating discussions, wiki documents, and blog posts using the rich-text editor is simple, which should persuade even computer novices to participate in communities. Moreover, advanced document features let me compare version changes side by side and restore previous versions of wiki documents when necessary.

For companies using Clearspace X as a support portal, I believe the feature that allows users to download most documents as PDF files will be very helpful.

More typical functions let users receive e-mail notifications of new information and subscribe to any community section as an RSS feed. Documents can be tagged with keywords, which results in precise search results from the built-in search engine.

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I don't often find private messaging, presence awareness, and group chat in products such as this; Clearspace X adds these capabilities, which I believe further help users feel like they are part of communities. Presence awareness and chat do, however, require you to install Jive Software's Openfire Enterprise real-time collaboration server.

That said, Clearspace X's framework is very accessible and extensible. For example, available plug-ins let users display a YouTube video in a blog post, document, or discussion thread. Adding these functions and administering the overall server is very straightforward. Like the community side of the system, the Web admin interface proved easy to follow. I quickly created communities, permissioned users, and performed other necessary functions, such as changing settings for discussions. In addition, reporting is very complete, with this version adding 25 new reports, many that can be filtered and grouped by community.

Clearspace X doesn't change my mind about the leaders in the pure enterprise wiki space (though Jive Software deserves to be included in the upper tier of this group). But what Jive has done with Clearspace X shows that with some ingenuity, these products can become an effective, affordable way to build online customer communities. The way Clearspace X packages essential features, which work with minimal customization, gives it a leg up in this area.

InfoWorld Scorecard
Security (10.0%)
Performance (20.0%)
Scalability (10.0%)
Interoperability (10.0%)
Value (10.0%)
Management (20.0%)
Ease of use (20.0%)
Overall Score (100%)
Jive Software Clearspace X 1.1.1 8.0 9.0 8.0 9.0 9.0 9.0 9.0 8.8

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.