Social Software Notes

Two thoughts.

We’ve been using Yammer but it’s not clear to me what advantages this has over IM and chatrooms, providing you are already using those behind your firewall (we use Jabber). Having said that, Yammer is a very nice UI and the twitter-like desktop and mobile clients are great. It’s possible to have too much of a good thing, presence-based instant messaging is one of them. Just need one system for everyone to use.

Wikis. We’ve been building out a wiki for NewsGator developer services. Nothing fancy but my team has put a lot of energy into building out the content and from a quality standpoint I think it’s pretty high. I heard something today that totally validated the energy we have invested here:

“We have seen a decrease in inbound support requests since the wiki has been online and built out.”

Okay, so we’ve increased our customer count and expanded our product with things like the Gigya integration and new Editor’s Desk functions, yet the inbound support requests have declined. That is awesome and it loudly makes the point that when given the resources people will help themselves and be happy about doing it.

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At War on Wikipedia

Schilling is the man who protects Hillary’s online self from the public’s hatred. He estimates that he spends up to 15 hours per week editing Wikipedia under the name “Wasted Time R”–much of it, these days, standing watch over Hillary’s page. Hardly a news event or argument over her situation goes by without Wasted Time R’s input: He edited her page 77 times in the last month, mostly pruning away changes he viewed as inappropriate, such as a rant about Geraldine Ferraro or a stealthy effort to diminish Hillary’s role in improving the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. The fact that Schilling is married to a librarian who, he laments, “never recommends anybody use Wikipedia” (no one, no one, hates Wikipedia as much as librarians) does not diminish his vigilance. “You constantly have to police [the page],” he says, recalling the way Rudy Giuliani’s Wikipedia article declined in quality after its protectors lost interest. “Otherwise, it diverts into a state of nature.”

This is a really interesting article on how the political campaigns are being forced to monitor Wikipedia minute-by-minute. In the final analysis Wikipedians will say the system is working as it should but I say that there is something flawed about a system that fails to accommodate high stakes issues with an effective throttle to ensure that misinformation isn’t leaking out.

Jimmy Wales recently made an interesting comment about how Wikipedia is a double edged sword that “works because everything we do is extensively debated but the other side of that is in order for us to do anything everyone has to agree.”

We’re approaching a point where Wikipedia is as much a utility service as an independent foundation/website. The consequence of that is that the group of insiders that run Wikipedia simply have to accept that they alone don’t always have the right solutions and inaction is the absence of agreement simply isn’t sustainable.

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The Curse of YASN

“And about those profiles. As anticipated, Wikia Search is yet another social network. User profiles include basic elements like a photo, adding friends, and information about interests and skills. And in a direct rip off of Facebook, Wikia Search profiles contain an activity stream of stuff you and your friends have been up to over the recent past.”

TechCrunch on Wikia Search

I tried out Wikia Search and found it to be quite lame, but it is alpha and, according to the company, it needs human interaction to get better. The Wikia about page acknowledges that the search results are poor, so I probably shouldn’t beat up on them too much, although I think it’s fair to say that I was expecting something a lot better out of the gate… search is hard but it’s not an unknown.

As Michael points out, if it needs human interaction to get better then why didn’t the company release the human interaction tools that are required in order for it to get better. Read the comment thread, this is a point that Jimmy Wales eventually acknowledges. Google isn’t perfect but it does return what you need on the first or second pass, and that’s the job of a search engine and more importantly, it’s been that way with Google from day 1.

To compare Wikia Search to Wikipedia is kind of silly, they are two entirely different universes, and that’s a problem for Wikia. Human powered search is only as good as the humans who are powering it and unlike algorithms they don’t get better, more just show up. Wales suggests that Google search is full of spam and Wikia search is not, but if I can’t use it because it’s incapable of meeting the basic threshold of search competency then where are all the humans going to come from to make it better? Why not just start out with kick ass machine search as a foundation?

There are also some confusing overlaps to Wikipedia. For example, search on any term and you will have the option of creating a mini-article about that term. The mini-article looks very much like a wikipedia article so why not just integrate that into the search result?

Why does everything have to be a social network now? Crikey this is getting annoying.

The wisdom of crowds concept is wonderful but we all know now that Wikipedia isn’t the utopia of transparency that so many fans like to suggest. There is an alpha class of users, secret lists, and as in all good socialist systems, centralized control. Having said that, I still rely on it almost daily for the simple reason that it gets me what I want when I need it, a lesson that Wikia Search itself should should study up on. It’s similar to the phenomena that we had a few years ago when multi-function smart phones started appearing en masse and most of them made pretty crappy cell phones… for a mobile phone the number 1 function is to handle calls, for a search engine the number 1 function is to deliver fast and relevant search results and everything else is extra.

McNealy Spends Retirement Pitching Curriki

I was at a friends house over the weekend and Curriki came up, but until I read about it today I really didn’t know much about it. It is essentially a directed wiki with a social mission, a combination that is pretty powerful in total. In looking through the site it does look like an impressive repository of educational content. Great name as well.

Former Sun CEO hopes the world is his classroom / McNealy says nonprofit Curriki Web site encourages learning:
McNealy has spent most of the past year as the leading pitchman for Curriki, a nonprofit group that’s trying to build a mega-Web site of educational materials that teachers, students and parents anywhere in the world can use, modify, critique and expand on. And they can do all that for free.

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Most wikis only go to 10, mine goes to 11

I read this puff piece on a Portland company (via techmeme) that is hosting a wiki about other websites. Yeah, you read that right… the business is a wiki that has information about websites. The only reason I’m bothering to write about this is to point out how press release journalism does no favors for companies or readers.

Ray King hasn’t had a home run yet. But investors in his newest venture, AboutUs Inc., think King could be building the next Google.

King’s Portland company has just closed a $1 million initial financing round for its wiki, or collaboratively created Web site, listing the names of Web sites and information about them.

I don’t get it and I’m disappointed that the writer of this piece didn’t come out and say the same thing.

First of all, the great majority of the market doesn’t want to add content to a wiki. Take a look at any of the wiki pages attached to Amazon product pages, like this page for a canon powershot camera that has over 100 customer reviews but the product wiki page is empty. I picked this one page because there are 114 user reviews of this product but zero content in the wiki, clearly reviewers prefer one format over the other for some reason. Perhaps it’s the nature of a review to be first person and opinion rather than a wiki page which is supposed to be authoritative. Note to journalists covering tech, ask the question here about what the incentive is for people to contribute and when Ray King answers, say “I don’t get it” and make him answer it again.

Secondly, as it relates to the company profiled in the attached article, it is all built on Mediawiki, which in itself is a very capable wiki platform but has a terrible editor. This alone certainly doesn’t doom Mediawiki but if your business is dependent upon attracting user generated content then one would have to make the assumption that a user friendly authoring environment is a requirement. Also, if you are building a business on top of Mediawiki, would you not at least skin it to make it look like a branded site? Before anyone comments back that “oh but wikipedia is built on Mediawiki and they have no problems with the editor”, I think you need to sit back and take a deep breath while considering the fact that wikipedia was first and that gives them a lot of latitude in terms of features and usability. If wikipedia were to start at ground zero today competing with another wikipedia already established then usability, specifically ease of use, would factor in greatly. Note to journalists covering tech, use the product/service in question and form an opinion about it as a user.

The writer of this piece also says that web 2.0 is a technology where web sites “invite participation from users, and Web technology is used for collaboration and communication,” but then goes on to call Google the “mother of all web 2.0 companies” that is a profitable “multiline business” blah blah blah. So I can live with the web 2.0 stuff and Google being the “mother” and so on, but the last time I checked Google is like 99% advertising when you look at revenue so to call it a “multiline business” may be more than a little generous. Note to journalists covering tech, we’re all getting tired of the “it’s like Google” comparisons.

Finally, there is this juicy quote from one of the investors in speaking about wikis in general and the founder of the company:

While freely admitting he doesn’t use wikis, and doesn’t really understand them, “Ray is a very intelligent guy, and people are finding the site,” Holce said.

Note to journalists covering tech, if an investor tells you they don’t use the product or even understand them, ask him/her why the hell they invested.

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Wikipedia Hijacked to Spread Malware

interesting way to create a vulnerability out of a feature.

Wikipedia Hijacked to Spread Malware | News on Antivirus & Security Internet | India:

“The good news is that the authorities at Wikipedia quickly identitifed and edited the article on their site,” said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos. “Unfortunately, however, the previous version of the page was still present in the archive and was continuing to point to malicious code. The hackers were thus able to send out spam pointing people to the page on Wikipedia, and try and lead them into infection.”

Google Acquires JotSpot, Socialtext Provides Free Migration

Google acquires JotSpot and what ensues is surely to be 2 years of confusion while they figure out what to do with it, how to handle customers (they shut off registrations for new accounts), and what the impact to their existing product strategy is. This is a great opportunity for Socialtext to provide a safe harbor for Jot customers who are concerned about their future under Google. You can migrate your data out of Jot today and into a Socialtext workspace with no cost, upfront or hidden, it’s that straightforward.

Google Acquires JotSpot, Socialtext Provides Free Migration | Socialtext Enterprise Wiki:

Socialtext, the first winki company, announced today a free hosted wiki program for JotSpot customers following that company’s acquisition by Google. Socialtext will migrate JotSpot wiki content and provide one year of Socialtext Professional hosted wiki service to any JotSpot customer who signs up by the end of November 2006. While most JotSpot customers are small-to-midsized businesses, this offer is extended to deployments of any size.

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Sales Meets Wiki

Great example but it really only works when 1) there is a critical mass of people paying attention to the wiki workspace, and 2) they are comfortable editing the pages. This is the biggest challenge for deploying wikis in the enterprise, the first is largely mandate but it also hinges on putting the resources to kickstart the wiki so that there is something for everyone, and the latter is cultural.

Sales Meets Wiki | Socialtext Enterprise Wiki:

Last week, a prospect asked me for a comparison between Forums and Wikis for creating a community. “Good question,” I thought, “do we have any collateral on that?” A quick search of our corporate wiki didn’t show anything promising. So I posted a wiki page called “Forums vs Wikis” with a few starting comments and the purpose of the page, knowing that our team of 30 constantly watches the “What’s New” section of our wiki. Within four hours, five team members, including engineers, had contributed to the wiki page with numerous revisions. I had basically a final version that I simply exported as a Word doc, tweaked with final formatting, and emailed to the customer.

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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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