User Experience, Socialtext 2.0, and Web Services

Socialtext released version 2.0 of their enterprise wiki today, and it’s not just a thinly veiled attempt to climb higher up on the 2.0 bandwagon, it really is an extensively updated release of their flagship product.

As many of you know, I have been associated with Socialtext for a long time now, first as a wiki enthusiast, then as Ross’ friend, later adding on the investor title while still retaining the friend one. The biggest complaint that people familiar with wikis have about Socialtext is that the “UI sucks”. This was, in my opinion, a very unfair and misleading complaint for a couple of reasons, the first being that it’s not enough to say the UI sucks and leave it at that, you have to expand on it even if just minimally in order to effect some meaningful change in the product roadmap.

If you have used Socialtext and don’t like the fonts/graphics/layout, well then that’s one level of user interface and quite honestly it’s easily fixed with the new themes capabilities they are offering, but if your complaint is that the UI is not well thought out from the perspective of how people in enterprises use wikis then I would say you have a valid point and also add that I don’t think anyone has really figured this out yet given the relative immaturity of wikis in an enterprise setting. One last point about Socialtext and user experience, it’s interesting to talk to people that are using the product/service about this because they almost always point to the UI but in the same breadth they talk about the features that are available here and not in other wiki products; so clearly this is a case of a product that is functionally stronger than competitive products that faces a bigger challenge of making all those features accessible.

Over the last year the team at Socialtext has focused on a great many initiatives but two in particular are near and dear to my interests. The first is thinking through how people in companies use wikis and then from the ground up designing a user experience that best accommodates them because I can tell you with absolute certainty that Wikipedia behind the firewall just doesn’t come close to what companies need in order to scale enterprise wide deployments. That work is embodied in this release, and I would encourage you to watch the screencast linked to in the post to see all of it. Impressive.

Secondly, Socialtext added SOAP and REST interfaces to enable external developers to integrate functionality in their apps as well as drive new functionality within a wiki page, thereby enabling my original investment thesis that these things will become containers for applications functions that integrate with the unstructured text in the page. Very cool and I’m excited to see what creative uses developers come up with to take advantage of this.

In my opinion Socialtext is again pushing the bar higher with this release.

Socialtext 2.0 | Socialtext Enterprise Wiki:

Two big changes come with Socialtext2.0. A fundamental redesign of the user interface, resolving the complexity that confronts new wiki users while preserving the power of a flexible enterprise tool. And Wiki Web Services, with SOAP and REST APIs to support enterprise integration and enable Open Source developers to innovate in the language of their choice and mashup wiki functionality with other applications.

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